Having traveled to Portugal since 1973 I have long been a admirer of the country, not only it’s climate, but people and quality of lifestyle. Jim Frank provides a more in-depth perspective of this terrific golf destination.
James A. FrankTheAPosition
Overshadowed by its next-door neighbor Spain, as well as the rest of Europe, Portugal deserves more attention
Pity poor Portugal. Like a third-string quarterback, it rarely gets the good look, seldom a chance to strut its stuff. In European golf, Great Britain is the franchise player, Spain the backup. Lowly Portugal rides the bench, saying, “Play me or trade me.”
My advice? Play.
It’s not as if anyone …
The following is an interesting collection of thoughts and travel ideas from a group of well travelled golf writers, in the event they were given $10,000 to spend, what would their trip look like;
In this season of gift-giving, the writers at golf’s leading website offer presents to themselves-and give back to the game they love
I love links golf, have since the moment I ran a shot onto the second green at The Old Course the first time I played the old gal. What fun! And that’s where we spend the ten thousand, going to and playing the great …
The co-founder and President of PerryGolf assesses 2010 from an international golf travel perspective and looks ahead to 2011.
Is the economy starting to loosen its grip on international golf travel?
GD: It’s starting to move in a better direction. It’s getting better but we still have a long way to go before we return to our high water marks of five or six years ago.
Did you expect 2010 to bounce back stronger than it did?
GD: As precipitous a drop as it was, it was unlikely that international golf travel would bounce back quickly. 2009 was a miserable year; 2010 was a decided improvement for us. So it’s clearly going in the right direction. But every bit of it is earned. I didn’t really think it would bounce back much more than it has. I just didn’t think the signs were there. If you look at the economy, there are still some serious underlying issues.
Are there signs that the worst is over?
GD: The confidence that the worst is over varies directly with your socio-economic standard. At the very high end, the recession hasn’t affected the travel habits of the uber rich to any great extent. But just beneath that level, you have a group of people – the Wall Street guys and others – for whom it just hasn’t been appropriate to be seen spending money. But they’re back in the game. I think they’ve taken the attitude: “I’m going to enjoy my lifestyle. I don’t have as much as I had before, but I’m going to get back into the game.” Then you look at the guys who had done well before the economy turned – the car dealers and the developers, for example. They’re coming back because they’re seeing their businesses rebounding. We’re starting to see a lot of these guys resurface who traveled with us historically. I think that’s indicative of an underlying confidence level. So it’s kind of a return in some ways to where we were. But people are just a little more cautious in their spending money. Let’s put it this way: We’re not chartering many helicopters these days to help golfers avoid traffic tie-ups in Scotland.
Compare the effects of the Ryder Cup on Wales and the World Cup on South Africa as far as their status as golf destinations?
GD: The Ryder Cup certainly helped get Wales recognized as a golf destination. I’m not sure the U.S. market will be beating the door down to play Celtic Manor because it’s not the links type course they anticipate in the UK. But travelers from other markets – like Scandinavia or Germany, for example – take a different approach. So there’s no doubt that long term they will benefit from it. As far as World Cup, it certainly didn’t hurt, and I’m sure the long-term benefits of putting South Africa on the world stage will pay dividends. But there’s nothing we’ve particularly noticed as far as a decided uptick from golfers. It’s a great destination and it represents good value. But you can think of it this way: The week after the British Open our phones are busy with people inquiring about a trip. But that wasn’t the case after World Cup.
What will Ireland’s latest economic challenges mean to the traveling golfer?
GD: The Irish economy has been in tatters for two years and prices reflect that. I think the deals will still be there in the aftermath of the latest turn of events in Ireland. But suppliers have already priced in these new challenges, and I do not think Irish pricing will fall much more. Ireland got overbuilt, prices got high, and the Irish economy is in trouble. So the country as a whole is not getting much local business support and traffic. Three years ago we had to pre-buy all of our times for the following summer at certain course. That seems such ancient history because the demand is just not there anymore. When will it be back? I just don’t know.
Is there a silver lining in all this for international golf travelers?
GD: It’s absolutely a better environment today for the traveling golfer. A lot of clubs in the British Isles had a long period when they enjoyed visitor income that was fairly free and easy. Every year they would bump up their greens fees a little and people would turn up and play. The next year they would do the same thing and people would turn up and play. It was a very nice cycle and it continued for a number of years. To their credit, the vast majority of clubs that enjoyed that cycle also spent a fair amount of money that was coming in from visitors on improving their facility. They improved the visitor’s locker rooms, upgraded the bar and foodservice, for example. They’ve made an effort to reinvest in the visitor experience. The members enjoyed that as well, and it is important to realize a lot of that was funded from the visitor side of things.
Will value-add continue to be a strategy employed by hotels and golf courses to attract golfers?
GD: 2009 was like, “Hey, what do you need?” Suppliers were desperate for the business. So we were watching with interest about 12 months ago to see what suppliers were going to do. For the most part, they held their rates about the same and retained some of the value-add promotions they had put in place. Pay for three nights and get the fourth free, or play a second round for free if you play within seven days, that type of thing. But we’re also seeing a number of suppliers move back their pre-booking cutoff dates to qualify for these value-add specials to the end of the year or the end of January. That’s a sign people are getting just a little more bullish, thinking the worst may be over and thinking they may be able to squeeze a little more yield out of the rooms and golf.
Which destinations represent the best opportunities for value-conscious travelers?
GD: The British Isles, relative to what they were three or four years ago, still represent good value. Within the euro zone, I think Portugal represents good value. So does Ireland because there are so many places where suppliers are struggling.
Invariably as part of the feedback after golf trips to the British Isles, we receive feedback from travelers about this or that caddy; a funny story or situation. Our impression of a links caddy is more often than not the hearty, red nosed, stalwart with rain suit, ready to tackle whatever challenge today brings…all with fine humor.
Brian McCallen describes another group of caddies who also enjoy the benefits of the golf travel industry but from a completely different perspective;
Maybe it’s because I got my start in golf as a teenage caddie. Maybe it’s because when I visited Kenya 30 years ago, I saw lots of poor kids running barefoot around the rural villages south of Nairobi. Either way, I’ve always had a soft spot for loopers, especially kids trying to raise themselves from difficult circumstances by shouldering the bag.
Which is why I was …