The DIYer’s Bible: This might be all you’ll need to book a golf trip to Scotland

The DIYer’s Bible: This might be all you’ll need to book a golf trip to Scotland

I’ve never met Allan McAllister Ferguson, author of Golf in Scotland: A Travel-Planning Guide. But having walked some of the courses he’s walked and having met some of the people he’s met, it feels as if we’ve occupied the same time and place long enough to make a deep connection with one another. I’d certainly include him on my short list of kindred spirits. And I have a hunch he’d reciprocate.

After all, he had some very kind and generous things to say about my debut novel, Machrihanish. Even more gratifying, he shared the book with his daughter. Her positive response, in turn, has the two of them discussing the possibility of a father-daughter golf trip to Scotland. If it comes to pass, it will be a case of life imitating alleged art. How cool is that?

I share all of the above in an honest attempt at making a full disclosure before I jump headlong into a review of Ferguson’s venerable guide, recently released as a revised version of its fourth edition. Obviously, any review—by its very nature—is subjective. But this one might be influenced by a wee bit more bias than normal.

I’ll leave it to you to adjust accordingly.

What’s so special about this book?

If you long to play golf in Scotland and you’re the sort who prefers to do most of the planning yourself, you need this book. It will become your road map, your trusty companion, your bible. Ferguson published the first edition in 2001. He’s updated it, in whole or in part, five times since.

As such, this book reminds me of the Mazda Miata I’ve got stowed away back in the States. The Japanese automaker started with a great concept when it brought the first generation of the reliable roadster to market in 1989. And by adopting a product development process built on incremental change, it’s spent the past 25 years making it better and better while remaining ever faithful to the car’s core purpose of delivering affordable fun.

Same with Golf in Scotland. Fourteen years ago, Ferguson’s aim was to help do-it-yourselfers on a budget realize their dream of experiencing the authentic links courses of Scotland. And that remains his mission to this day, emboldened by an Internet that has grown increasingly ubiquitous and sophisticated in the intervening years.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing Ferguson’s approach hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself with Scotland’s big tour operators—not with a prologue entitled, “Now More Than Ever—Avoid the Tours!” But as I see it, he’s just stating the obvious. The enlightened tour operators know this and have expanded their services.

Again, if I can borrow the automotive analogy, it’s a bit like car dealers who haven’t adjusted their business model to the fact that customers can easily cross-shop them and their wares online with the click of a computer mouse or the touch of a smartphone’s screen. As I see it, the tour operators still have an important role to play, especially for large groups in need of big blocks of tee times (especially at the Old Course) and a chauffer-driven bus, or for small groups who demand a first-class experience from start to finish. But if you envision making the pilgrimage on your own or with a few friends, you’re up to the challenge of driving on the left side of the road and modest accommodations are more than sufficient, then Ferguson’s your man.

How does it read?

Practical, thorough and conversational. If you’re looking for the “why” of a trip to Scotland, a great place to start would be James W. Finegan’s Blasted Heaths and Blessed Greens, a classic in its own right. But if it’s the “how” you’re after—hands-on help that will actually get you there—Golf in Scotland is the answer.

The book is divided into two main sections: 1) a detailed guide to the nuts and bolts of a Scottish golf trip, including an in-depth game plan for staying and playing in St. Andrews; and 2) a directory of courses, comprised of brief but spot-on profiles of 74 of Scotland’s more than 500 tracks (counting both 9- and 18-holers).

While the course guide is certainly quite helpful, it’s the first section that really sets this book apart in my opinion. It breaks down the four key elements of a golf trip: air travel, vehicle rental, tee times and lodging. For instance, when it comes to booking flights, Ferguson advises doing whatever you can to avoid connecting through London’s Heathrow Airport, unless you’re booked on one airline throughout the trip. The reason? Heathrow is massive, “a city within a city,” as Ferguson describes it. Delays are legendary. Missed connections are common. And misplaced baggage, including golf clubs, is par for this course. As Ferguson puts it in his refreshingly direct prose, “it’s no fun for a golfer to be in Scotland without golf clubs.”

His advice for booking tee times is similarly pragmatic. He describes multiple strategies, such as calling directly (using Voice Over Internet Protocol services such as Skype and adjusting for time zones), sending email (modifying a handy-dandy template letter), submitting forms now found on many of the courses’ websites and entering open competitions.

The last chapter in this section, “A Potpourri of Useful Information,” fills most of the gaps in between. Examples include what to pack and how to pack it, how to manage jet lag, options for shipping or renting clubs, how to navigate roundabouts and decipher sign postings, what to eat (including the somewhat unnerving yet ever-present black pudding and haggis) and ways to work around the lack of plumbing on most links courses (such as stashing a refillable water bottle in your golf bag to stay hydrated).

Bottom line: Ferguson leaves no stone unturned.

Where I can I buy it?

You’re going to use the Internet to plan and book your trip, so why not buy this incredibly useful guide there, too?

Is it worth the price?

At first glance, it might seem like $24.95 is a bit much to pay for a paperback book. But when you calculate how much money you’ll save and how much grief and aggravation you’ll avoid, I think you’ll agree it’s a heckuva bargain. To paraphrase those old American Express ads, don’t leave for Scotland without it. 

Overall Rating (Ace high to Double Bogey low): Ace

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