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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Challenges of Travel on an Overseas Golf Vacation

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        I am in the United Kingdom on a golf holiday and, with apologies, will continue to file reports here. I am hopeful that some of my "stories" will provide a bit of guidance to those planning a golf venture to Scotland. Although I have made the trip before, it has seemed much easier in the past.

        I spent the better part of Wednesday through Friday visiting with my sister and her family in London and meeting, in person for the first time, my grand niece. The playground in West Hampstead where we took her and her sister was like nothing I've seen in the States in that it is maintained by the organizers of a group home next door who planted and tend to vegetable patches. My nieces picked a couple of tomatoes (to-mahhh-toes) but no one, according to my brother in law, abuses the privilege. Take a corn, cucumber, zucchini or whatever and leave plenty for others. Very civilized.

Where is Everyone Going?
        Getting out of London to return to Edinburgh, Scotland, was almost frightening. I chose Luton airport for the flight on Easyjet, one of Europe's discount airlines. The flight wasn't the problem; the airport was. Lesson learned: On a summer Friday in early evening, with people intent on heading for holiday for a weekend or week, most British airports are madhouses, this one more so than others. It is an old airport, poorly organized in terms of layout and flight announcements. The board announced that the gate for my flight would not be called until 1/2 hour before departure time. (Many other flights indicated the same thing.). Yet my ticket indicated that the gate for the Easyjet flight would be closed 1/2 hour before its scheduled departure. Making matters a bit more intimidating, the gate areas were split, one off the left from the main terminal and the other to the right. Signs posted indicated the walk to some gates were as long as 15 minutes. People were jammed into all nooks and crannies of the terminal, and some of the workers trying to replenish shelves with sandwiches in the shops had to excuse themselves repeatedly to get their carts through. And, yet, not a single-person raised his or her voice or seemed at all angry about the delays and the steerage-like conditions.
        They did not close the gate 1/2 hour before the flight, and the flight itself to Edinburgh was comfortable and routine. I didn't have to wait too long for my checked bag and after a long walk from the arrival lobby to the shuttle bus, I was pleased to see a bus waiting. It left immediately and deposited me at the Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Airport. I chose the hotel because I tend to stay with the chain when I travel in the States. I like the predictability from one to the next -- the same shower heads, the same breakfast rooms, the reliable wi-fi connections, the same soaps and shampoo. Holiday Inn's standards don't necessarily translate everywhere. In the bathroom were two bottles of soap, one beside the sink and one in the shower. No shampoo or any of the other amenities one is used to in the chain's U.S. hotels. I thought that I'd use the soap as a body wash and shampoo but when I looked around for a washcloth, there were none. At the front desk, the attendant indicated they were "out" of washcloths. Hard to bellieve, especially in a hotel I was paying over $250 for the night. (The famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival is on now, and that drives up prices for virtually everything in and around the area.)

        The next morning, in a trailer in a parking lot near the hotel, I rented a car from Fox Rent-A-Car. At least I tried to rent a car. The line at the desk was about 10 customers long and there was just one frazzled attendant. His profuse apologies did not seem to mollify some of the customers, and after 15 minutes, I was only two customers closer. A reinforcement arrived and helped shorten the queue (important British term there) and my paperwork was done after 45 minutes. In the drizzle I waited, along with six others, for my car to be delivered. And waited. And waited. More than a half hour later, my name was finally called, the only compensating factor being the brand new Volvo now in my possession for the week.  The drive north to Crail "on the wrong side of the road" was surprisingly easy, although I could not quite figure out the distance from the left side of the car to the edge of the roadway.  Fortunately, no tire-damaging curbs were in play.
        In summary, my advice is don't fly from Luton Airport outside of London on a Friday night in summer; choose the better organized Heathrow or even London City Airport. Take nothing for granted when booking a hotel or renting a car in Edinburgh; ask a lot of questions beforehand (and consider renting the car from one the big three, like Hertz or National.). Bring proper rain gear if you intend to play golf every day while in Scotland; the weather can change dramatically day to day, even minute to minute. (I experienced four seasons in 15 minutes at St. Andrews in 2009.). I may have more to say about this after my round tomorrow (see below).
I am now with my dear friends in Crail, 1 1/2 hours north of Edinburgh, anticipating my first round of golf in a couple of hours at Crail Balcomie links, the 7th oldest golf course in the world. It is a brilliant sunny day -- for now -- and I can't wait to renew my acquaintance with this terrific links course beside the North Sea.       

        Tomorrow will be a different experience at a parkland course called Ladybank, a half hour away, with the weather expected to be dark, dreary and very wet. I am fairly well prepared with water rejecting pants -- not quite Goretex -- and a repellant overshirt. I'm fine with drizzle but if it comes down hard, I may consider what any serious tourist might under similar conditions -- head for a whiskey distillery for a tour and a wee dram. Stay tuned.

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.


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