Scottish Odyssey – Famed Fairways, Fine Whisky, Historic Castles and Royal Palaces.

The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse overlooks the first tee and the eighteenth green of the Old Course, St Andrews.
The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse overlooks the first tee and the eighteenth green of the Old Course, St Andrews. (Photo by Russell Kirk)

By George Fuller

Veteran golf writer and photographer George Fuller visited Scotland for twelve nights in July 2009 on assignment for Virtuoso Life Magazine. This story of his journey, which began in St Andrews and concluded in Turnberry by way of the Scottish Highlands, was published in the January / February 2010 issue.

The view from atop Calton Hill, a steep rise overlooking the heart of Edinburgh, is a panoramic summary of a proper visit to Scotland. To the west is majestic Edinburgh Castle, once the home of Scottish kings and queens, and the lovingly restored buildings of Old Town. To the east is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, an imposing structure where British royals stay. And off to the north is the Firth of Forth, a major artery of shipping and commerce across which is the revered home of golf, St Andrews. Part history lesson, part golf vacation, and all thoroughly exhilarating – that’s Scotland.

I had visited Scotland several times before, always to play golf. Classic guy stuff: Play many of the best courses, try a considerable number of single malts, tour some grand castles, and even try haggis – once.

But this trip was different. Though ostensibly my brother and I were there to attend the 2009 British Open at Turnberry Resort – a journey arranged by tour operator PerryGolf – we ventured across the pond ten days early to spend some time in Edinburgh and then travel north and west before ending our journey on the Ayrshire coast. And though we played our fair share of golf, our experience went well beyond fairways, castles, and whisky. It was a trip I knew my wife – with her love of great food, spas, and fine hotels – would have thoroughly enjoyed.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

It was Dave’s first trip to the Auld Country, so Edinburgh seemed the perfect place to start, particularly in the summer, when the year’s best weather brings a host of concerts, events, and festivals, including the internationally renowned Festival Fringe. Though nearly half a million people live there today, it’s easy to imagine what Scotland’s capital was like 500 years ago, as so many of its historic buildings are preserved, and every alley reveals a colorful story of the past.

From our elegant base at The Balmoral hotel, we set off in all directions and saw as much as we could every day. A short walk from the lobby one morning took us to the Scott Monument, a weathered Gothic tower that pays homage to the great Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott. As we roamed the city’s commercial center, the same vibrant music was playing seemingly from every shop. I popped inside one store filled with tartans, cashmere, and postcards to find out what it was.

“The Red Hot Chilli Pipers,” the salesclerk told me.

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers?” I asked, thinking of the L.A.-based rock band.

But no, the Pipers are a Scottish band whose infectious bagpipe rock was so irresistible I bought their CD Bagrock to the Masses. Putting a rock spin on such traditional pipe-and-drum tunes as “Auld Lang Syne,” The Red Hot Chilli Pipers perfectly symbolize the blending of old and new Scotland: We respect our past, the music says, but we’re damn well going to rock the future.

That afternoon, we crossed the North Bridge and walked the Royal Mile, which follows High Street from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It’s a fascinating walk un-escorted, but during summer months, free tours – guided mainly by college students – make a walk through Old Town both informational and hysterical.

We followed one such tour past the Old Town Weaving Company and the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre to the steps of Saint Giles’ Cathedral, where our guide told colorful tales of witch trials and dank dungeons. Despite the somber material, with a wink of the eye and a well-told tale, all the country’s historical brutality and strife became the stuff of gallows humor, and we joined in laughing as we learned.

“Is storytelling in your blood?” I asked our young guide, for that’s another thing we noticed about the Scots: They all seem to be master storytellers.

“Aye,” he said. “We have so much to tell.”

Three days was not enough in Edinburgh, but we had a large territory to cover and a golf tournament to attend, so we headed north across the Forth Road Bridge to St Andrews.

St Andrews
Dave and I arrived at the home of golf on a Sunday afternoon. After checking into the Old Course Hotel and admiring the views of the golf course, the “Royal & Ancient” clubhouse, and The Auld Grey Toon (as St Andrews has been dubbed) from our top-floor suite, we headed to the storied bar at the Dunvegan Hotel for a late-afternoon Guinness.

Strolling out the back door of the hotel, we saw not golfers, but families with picnics and dogs digging in the sand traps all across the Old Course. And then we remembered: The course is closed on Sunday, and the grounds are used by the community as parkland. That’s one of the great things about golf in Scotland: It is a game of the people, and there are few private clubs.

Of course, bright and early Monday morning we were on the first tee at the Old Course (view video), ready to test our skills against her infamous gorse, deep and notoriously difficult pot bunkers, and large, undulating greens. Just for the record, I’ll note that my 83 that day was something I am very proud of – and Dave’s less-than-stellar performance gave him valuable insight. “Golf,” he said, stewing as we walked off 18. “Were all the other four-letter words taken?” Luckily, we discovered the Jigger Inn, an authentic roadhouse attached to the Old Course Hotel that serves great fish-and-chips and a healthy selection of ales, so Dave’s woes were soon soothed.

Adjacent to the Old Course Hotel, the famous Jigger Inn has welcomed many a golfer to celebrate or, commiserate!
Adjacent to the Old Course Hotel, the famous Jigger Inn has welcomed many a golfer to celebrate or, commiserate!

Later, we went up to the hotel’s Road Hole Bar, which famously carries every Scotch made in Scotland – that’s more than 200 varieties for those of you counting. We stood on the roof patio sipping peaty whisky and puffing Cuban cigars (yes, Scotland imports them) late into the summer night, watching golfers come up the finishing holes until almost 11:30 pm, when it got too dark to play.

Aberdeen and Inverness
Aberdeen is a city full of architectural wonders from Scotland’s past, such as Saint Machar’s Cathedral, built in 1131 on the site of an original Celtic church and beautifully preserved today.

The Marcliffe Hotel and Spa is close to Aberdeen’s Old Town and its charming buildings and cobblestoned streets, although it was not necessary to stray far from our room at dinnertime, as The Marcliffe’s restaurant is considered the best in the city. The night we were there, I tried a delicious asparagus soup followed by perfectly prepared Scottish lamb paired with a glass of Burgundy. Dave tried the Scottish beef and was equally happy.

The Marcliffe Hotel, Aberdeen, Scotland.
The Marcliffe Hotel, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Remarkable castles dot the countryside surrounding Aberdeen, from the sixteenth-century Crathes Castle and Gardens to nearby Fyvie Castle, an impressive example of Scottish Baronial architecture, where we saw an important collection of arms and armor.

The drive west from Aberdeen to Inverness took us through the rolling green hills of the Grampian Highlands and led us alongside the Malt Whisky Trail, a collection of nine distilleries, including such well-known brands as Cardhu and The Glenlivet. We made stop at the Glenfiddich Distillery, with its colorful gardens, frequent factory tours, and gift shop loaded with bottles to ship home, but with a long drive in front of us still, we declined too much tasting.

Inverness, the bustling capital city of the Highlands, was a highlight. We stayed at Rocpool Reserve, a thoroughly hip 11-room hideaway with a central location, the popular Chez Roux restaurant, and a staff that made us feel like we were part of the family. Chef Albert Roux’s outstanding menu featured classic French country dishes, such as the roast pork with prunes and apples over mashed potatoes I tried our first night in town.

From Rocpool, we walked down to the River Ness, which flows through the city into the Moray Firth, sampled several local brews at Castle Tavern (next to Inverness Castle), and chatted one evening with an enthusiastic young man outside a bar who took pains to describe exactly what the world can thank Scotland for.

“Much of what you Yanks call the American spirit came directly from Scotland,” he said. “The idea that all men are equal; that the people are always more powerful than the rulers they create; the right to free speech; and that a man can make of himself what he chooses.”

Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Dornoch, Scotland.  (Photo by Evan Schiller)
Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Dornoch, Scotland. (Photo by Evan Schiller)

We took one day of our Inverness itinerary to drive up to Dornoch, where one of the real treats of Scottish golf is located: Royal Dornoch Golf Club (view video). With its rumpled fairways and seaside location, this linksland course is guaranteed to jump into your top-five list.

Gleneagles & Turnberry
From Inverness we drove down to one of the world’s great golf resorts. First opened in 1924, Gleneagles has long been a favored getaway for European travelers. This majestic country estate, set on 850 acres, is perhaps best known as a golf destination – preparations are already under way to host the 2014 Ryder Cup matches on the resort’s Jack Nicklaus-created PGA Centenary Course – but there is plenty more to do. Guests can play tennis, ride horses, hike the surrounding countryside, attend falconry and gun-dogging courses, try lawn bowling, and drive a Range Rover on one of the off-road courses (there are even mini Rovers for kids). The resort’s high-end shopping arcade, with designer names such as Dunhill London,

Escada, and Hawick Cashmere, features a sign above the entrance: Retail Therapy Starts Here.

The meals were a real treat at Gleneagles. One evening we went casual at the Mediterranean-themed Deseo; the next night we ate a grand five-course meal in The Strathearn’s splendid conservatory.

The final leg of our Scottish odyssey took us south to the Ayrshire coast, where new owners recently spent $73 million to update and renovate the historic Turnberry Resort. Even longtime Turnberry devotees will agree the resort looks better than ever.

Gleneagles Hotel
Gleneagles Hotel

The hotel’s check-in area and main lobby bar, previously dark and distinguished, are now open with natural light and a panoramic view of the coastline and Ailsa Craig just offshore. Renovated guest rooms have been completely modernized with rich woods, flat-screen televisions, and marble floors in the bathrooms.

There’s a fun new sports bar on the main lobby level called Duel in the Sun (after the famous Sunday performances of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 Open Championship held on the resort’s

Ailsa Course), where we played a few games of pool. And in the new Ailsa Bar & Lounge we relaxed and had drinks and Scottish small plates.

Dave and I had arrived in time to watch the weekend rounds of the British Open and “Old Tom” Watson’s near win, and on Monday, when the players and fans had mostly departed, PerryGolf arranged for us to play the tournament course – from the demanding tournament tees, more than 7,200 yards. (View video of the Ailsa Course.)

We decided in advance that the score didn’t matter, and although we lost more than a few balls in the deep fescue grasses, it was a round we will never forget.

As we walked up the 18th fairway that day with the soft colors of the sunset beginning to paint the sky, I noticed the flag of Scotland waving in the breeze high above the hotel. In the distance I could hear the sound of bagpipes – was it bagpipe rock? – and the drumbeat of time marching in a proud land.

Field Report: Scottish Highlights
Virtuoso’s top travel advisors recently embarked on an insider’s tour of Scotland. We asked them for their firsthand impressions

The Takeaway:

“The Scottish countryside truly is an outdoor sporting destination, with hunting, horseback riding, falconry, off-road driving, and more – a nice complement to city activities in Edin­burgh or London.”

“The food, the history, and the people’s spirit and outdoor enthusiasm are all captivating.”“I thought I knew everything about single malt whisky – was I wrong! And Scotland is not just about golf.”

“Scotland’s not an add-on of a few days to England: It is most certainly a destination in its own right.”“A wonderful family destination. Castles, history, great sports for the whole family … multigenerational travel at its best.”

Don’t Miss:
“When in Edinburgh, a visit to the Parliament is a must. It gives a sense of the new history of an old country.”“Golf is a given, of course, but also indulge in spa treatments (Gleneagles’ spa is especially impressive) and cooking classes.”

“After a three-night stay in Edinburgh, plan on ten days to see the countryside, play golf, and visit the National Trust proper­ties – a membership is required.”

“Visit Stirling Castle, where the hero of Braveheart fought, and the Royal Yacht Britannia for a look into the private lives of royalty.”

© Reprinted with permission of Virtuoso Life Magazine & George Fuller.

So You Want to be a Group Leader?

The Swilcan never looked better!
The Swilcan never looked better!

I was lucky. A wise elder from my club who knew the ropes organized the earliest golf trips I joined, all stateside. The game changed in 1994 when our bunch set sights on Ireland and our elder could not make the trip. His lieutenant took the wheel and did a nice job. Two truths became clear; first, international travel is more complicated than a long weekend at Pinehurst. Second, a specialized golf tour operator is worth their weight in Pro Vs!

I’ve led four international trips, beginning with my first in 1994; three with guys from my club to Scotland, Ireland and Scotland/England, and one with the wives (and a couple mother in laws!) this past October to South Africa. I enjoy the role. It earns me a pint now and again and it’s interesting to learn so much more about the counties we’ve visited. I’ll confess to a perk as well: I prefer to control my fate when so much is on the line.

If you’re thinking about volunteering to lead a group, or you’ve been “volunteered,” my experience has found three things that make a big difference:

1. Start Silly Early: Starting early pays off … literally. You’ll almost always find early- bird offers (airfare discounts typically), and nothing comes close to endearing you to your group than saving them money! If the unfortunate happens and someone has to drop out, you’ll have time to find a replacement. Early puts you at the head of the line, increasing availability for your top course and hotel choices. Time also allows you the chance to react to the fluctuations of the US dollar. If it’s headed south, a tour operator who prices in guaranteed US dollars can do you a big favor. Eventually everyone’s prices will have to go up, so again sooner is better. You can bet on a tour operator who prices daily if you think the exchange rate will improve, but like any wager the agreement cuts both ways.

2. Get Several Quotes: You never want anyone thinking they paid too much so I always get competing quotes. You can also get good ideas. It’s gospel in my view to prepare your preferences in a Word document – rather than visiting each website and completing difference forms – so the input will be identical for pricing. I try to keep my hands on this pretty close. If a member of the group is inclined to quote a different tour operator, it’s fine but I ask that I do the liaison so the input will match. The quotes always come back with apples and oranges anyway; so the last thing this needs is apple, oranges and coconuts!

There will be a lot to see in the quotes beyond the cost. How promptly was it prepared? Did the operator provide sufficient detail? Was the quote easy to read? Were terms and conditions spelled out? As you might expect, quotes will vary in spite of having all begun the same. The hotel room category alone can have real money impact on the total. You could see the same hotel, but the room overlooking the sea is going to be more than the parking lot view. This is the homework phase — not my favorite — but a bad place to make a mistake.

Be absolutely sure you pay attention to the Terms & Conditions. You need to understand the cancellation policies, payment schedules, change fees and credit card surcharges (most are charging 2% or so to pay with a credit card). And don’t overlook payment terms. Many tour operators price by the day; a number price with guaranteed US dollars. You can choose to gamble or play it safe..

I don’t hesitate to spend time with the tour operator if something isn’t clear, whether it’s a point in their quote or their competitors’. At the end of the day, I’m not after anyone’s job!

3. Answer Questions Privately: Once I’ve circled back on the proposals and made sure I understand the “fruit baskets” reasonably well, I’ll email the best and next best to the group for their review. This naturally surfaces comments and questions, and leads me back to the tour operator. I like to forward questions to the operator for two reasons: 1) the process will soon be in the their hands to finalize for reservations forms, payments, documents, etc., so the Q&A exercise serves as a handoff , and 2) they’ve got the answers! (If they don’t, you may have the wrong tour operator.)

One thing I’ve learned, the uncomfortable way, is when I forward the question to the tour operator, I’ll normally copy only the group member who asked the question rather than the entire group — even if everyone was copied on the original. Every question isn’t relevant to everyone, and truth be told, some won’t be relevant to anyone. Pretty sneaky I know, but I’m not signed on to herd cats!

[BB1]not sure about this first-time reference.

PerryGolf’s Colin Dalgleish Honored with Inaugural Special Achievement Award from Golf Tourism Scotland.

Nick Hunter (left), Chairman of Golf Tourism Scotland presents Colin Dalgleish, Co Founding Director of PerryGolf, with the Special Achievement Award November 5, 2009 at Turnberry Resort.
Nick Hunter (left), Chairman of Golf Tourism Scotland presents Colin Dalgleish, Co Founding Director of PerryGolf, with the Special Achievement Award November 5, 2009 at Turnberry Resort.

Colin Dalgleish, one of the two Founding Directors of international golf tour operator PerryGolf, has been named by Golf Tourism Scotland as the inaugural recipient of its Special Achievement Award for significant contribution to the golf tourism industry. The award was presented on November 5 at the 2009 Gold Standards Awards Dinner held at the iconic Turnberry Hotel on the Ayrshire Coast of Scotland.

Colin Dalgleish and his brother Gordon founded PerryGolf in 1984, and over the past 25 years have established the business into one of the leading international golf and travel brands to a number of worldwide destinations including the British Isles, France, Spain, South Africa, New Zealand & Australia.

PerryGolf has played an important role in the development of golf tourism into Scotland. The company was one of the first to assemble a full-time staff of highly knowledgeable golf travel specialists who acted on behalf of clients to coordinate the many options from a carefully vetted collection of golf, hotel and local transportation partners. The concept of a single source provider quickly found favor as Scotland’s popularity grew amongst American golfers. A variety of golf travel innovations followed including the creation of the first fleet of luxury 8 passenger Mercedes VIP coaches designed specifically for golfers; privately chartered small-ship golf cruises; luxury rail charters aboard the Royal Scotsman; plus exclusive programs to the British Open and the Ryder Cup. PerryGolf, through a multi year contract, also offers its clients outstanding guaranteed access to the Old Course of St Andrews, the Home of Golf.

The Dalgleish brothers grew up in the town of Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland near Loch Lomond, playing golf from an early age with each representing both Scotland and Great Britain & Ireland at junior level. Colin attended Ohio State University for two years where he played on the golf team alongside current PGA TOUR stars John Cook and Joey Sindelar before returning to Scotland to become the first Sports Bursar at the University of Stirling, graduating from there in 1984 with a BA in Accountancy. He was Scottish Amateur Champion in 1981, and a Walker Cup player the same year, before going on to Captain Scotland 1993-96, and most recently captain the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup Team against the United States at Royal County Down in 2007 and Merion in 2009. He served as a Board Member of Golf Tourism Scotland 2005-2006.

PerryGolf Lodges at Turnberry

LodgeExteriorSituated in the grounds of Turnberry, A Luxury Collection Resort, the PerryGolf Lodges at Turnberry provide golfers with the ability to enjoy peaceful, luxurious private Lodge accommodations with full access to all the amenities of this famed resort on the West Coast of Scotland. The Lodges are available in six or eight ensuite bedroom configuration, with each Lodge having a central lounge area where your group can congregate. As your group enjoys exclusive use of the PerryGolf Lodge, the lounge serves as a comfortable area for everyone to watch television, play cards, read or revisit the days golfing exploits…and settle bets! The PerryGolf Lodges at Turnberry have becoming exceptionally popular with our clients, particularly those groups of golfers who have also selected our exclusive VIP Coach transportation with Concierge Driver.