The mainstream media has a passive aggressive relationship with golf. The aggressive attitude is manifest in the constant onslaught of articles predicting the demise of the game. The passive is the disinclination to hint at any of the good reasons why the game could very well survive and even thrive.
I won’t re-litigate here why I believe the media has misinterpreted the closing of golf courses the last few years, what appears to we glass-half-full folks as a readjustment due more to oversaturation of golf courses than some longer trend. One cause for hope among those of us betting on the game’s future is Top Golf. You might be familiar with the operation if you subscribe to Twitter and other social media; but if you get your news from daily newspapers, probably not. I’ve mentioned Top Golf over recent weeks to a number of golfers, and none of them had heard of it.
Top Golf is the invention of two British brothers who founded the company after a boring experience at a driving range. Why, they reportedly asked each other, couldn’t there be a way to have fun while banging balls at the range? (see below) They opened their first three TopGolf locations in 2000 in the United Kingdom and, after securing major financial backing, debuted their first U.S. TopGolf in Alexandria, VA, in 2005. Since then, the number of American locations has grown to 42 (that number includes a few that will open within the next couple of months). Such rapid expansion is typically one ingredient for success, although too rapid comes with its own set of problems. So far so good for TopGolf.
Based on company reports and anecdotal comments, TopGolf appears to have some runway for growth and success in cities across the U.S., especially those in the northern half of the country. (For example, I am waiting for a TopGolf in the Hartford, CT, area which would seem an oasis for golf-starved locals in the winter months.) Oasis is an appropriate reference point since much of TopGolf’s attraction to its largely millennial audience is its accent on liquid refreshments—and food—as well as building fun into hitting golf balls. According to the company’s web site, the menu at each TopGolf location is developed and executed by a local chef using local ingredients and serving dishes familiar to the local crowd. I did not see anything particularly “southern” among the dishes listed for the new TopGolf location in Charlotte, NC, but the menu and drink list was large, creative and a bit whimsical (TopGolf Tea and something called a Tipsy Palmer among them).
For those of us who don’t drink until after we finish play, TopGolf offers some interesting challenges via microchips embedded in the golf balls they supply for you to launch at an array of targets. Accuracy counts in most of the games but there is one that rewards the big bangers. Although alcohol and golf don’t mix before the 19th hole, in my humble opinion, hitting targets may be beside the point for those who happily patronize TopGolf venues. (I recall many an evening in my misspent youth howling as some of my fellow 20-somethings threw gutter balls at the local bowling establishment.)
But whereas those who enjoyed the bowling had no next level to shoot for, those who enjoy the TopGolf experience—and most of them are 20- and 30-somethings—could very well step up to a public golf course or, eventually, a private club. And if and when they do, here’s hoping the country clubs they choose are ready to accommodate them with creativity and an entertaining few hours.
If you are considering a search for a permanent or vacation home in a golf-oriented area, please contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Golf Life in Scotland Could Be Within Reach
On golf courses across the U.S., especially at private clubs, players of a certain age boost their testosterone levels by bragging about their rounds at the likes of Royal Troon, the Old Course at St. Andrews, North Berwick and Carnoustie. But a golf trip to Scotland (or Ireland, for that matter) is, for practical reasons, an annual excursion at best. But what if it was more than that—say a four-month-at-a-time excursion?
That isn’t as far fetched as it may seem, given the current exchange rate with the British pound and the comparatively low cost to join a Scottish golf club. Whether you rent a home near a golf course for the summer season or do a couple of months rental through Air BnB or VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner), playing golf just like a Scottish native is possible (that is, after you master the knockdown shot through the wind). You might also find that owning a second home in Scotland is no more expensive or a greater hassle than owning one in the States.
Live in a Picture Postcard Village near Great Golf
I’ll use the Crail Golfing Society and the seaside town of Crail as an example. Located just 75 minutes north of Edinburgh, Crail is a postcard perfect version of a European fishing village. The town doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment, except for a few friendly pubs and tearooms, but St. Andrews, known locally as much for its university as for its golf, is just nine miles away. And strolls along the cobblestone streets of Crail, high above the North Sea coastline, might be all the entertainment you need for a few months a year. Winter, on the other hand, is only for the reclusive, golfers who can manage playing in ski attire (the courses are always open) and someone looking to write a novel without any distractions except a howling wind and rain.
The golf at the Crail Golfing Society is as entertaining as the game gets, with two 18-hole classic golf courses designed more than 100 years apart and, yet, sharing many of the same views of the adjacent sea and the ubiquitous winds that will make any post round boast that “I drove the ball straight today” highly unlikely. The Balcomie Links Course, designed by Old Tom Morris in 1895, is mostly wide open, a mixed blessing; plenty of room on and off the fairways but nothing to impede the almost constantly blowing of the winds. (Oddly, on the days I played, most of the wind was from the west, blowing toward the sea.) The longest par 4s at Balcomie, with carries over hazards that include the North Sea, play into the wind; the par 5s mostly play downwind, but that is faint compensation for those brutal par 4s.
Overseas Golf Membership a Bargain
Earlier this year I joined the Crail Golfing Society as an Overseas member, paying substantially less in initiation fees and annual dues than at most of the better semi-private courses in the States. Of course, in the U.S., I don’t need to hop a trans-Atlantic flight to get to my local club, but recently, Norwegian Airlines and Aer Lingus started offering reasonably priced non-stop service from my local airport in Hartford, CT, to Edinburgh and Dublin, respectively. I paid less than $500 to fly round-trip to Edinburgh, which is just a 75-minute car ride to Crail.
The cost to join the Crail club was just £167, or $218 US as I write this, and annual dues were just £129, or $167 (a measly $14 per month). For those dues, an Overseas member receives eight rounds annually at each of Crail’s two courses, four guest tickets for each course at just £15 per, the ability to book tee times up to a year in advance, member guest rates at three outstanding golf courses within a 40-minute drive, half price green fees at other excellent golf courses in the area and free golf at Blairgowrie, a multi-course inland complex a little over an hour away. All those golf courses, plus the two terrific ones at Crail and the roster of courses in the St. Andrews Trust (including the Old Course), could easily occupy the most serious golfer for an entire summer. One other benefit for a Crail member is access to the Royal Overseas Club that overlooks the famed Edinburgh Castle. It is not a bad place to sleep off a trans-Atlantic flight before heading to Crail.
Some Scottish Single Home Prices at U.S. Condo Levels
The biggest cost of a part-time residence in a place like Crail is, of course, the real estate. The good news there is that the exchange rate between the British pound and the U.S. dollar is at 1.29, as favorable a rate for Americans as we have seen in the last five years. When you see a home for sale quoted in British pounds, just multiply it by 1.29 and that is essentially the price in dollars.
One current example, set right in the village itself less than two miles from the golf courses, is a detached two-level villa with three bedrooms, one (the master) with an en-suite bathroom on the first floor, an eat-in kitchen and a courtyard with storage and kennels if you bring the pet(s). The home includes a second bathroom, rather unusual in the Crail village for older homes with fewer than four bedrooms. The owner is accepting offers over £225,000, or about $293,000. Taxes and utilities are about $325 per month.
Smaller homes—two bedrooms with only one bath—are listed beginning in the mid £100s.
It is a bit of an extravagance, it is true, but for a golfing couple contemplating a second home in the U.S., and reasonably priced golf membership they won’t use all year long, the home of golf offers a terrific alternative, especially if you live within reach of an airport with airlines offering discount fares to Edinburgh or Glasgow. If you would like more information about Crail and its great golf courses, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com.
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC