Independently minded Scots go it alone with golf passport

By | Category: Travel news

The newly launched Scottish golf passport opens up opportunities for golfers from around the world, writes Simon Walton

Just what will those Caledonian cousins come up with next?  Not content are they with their own lavishly illustrated bank notes; nor with a jagged and pernicious weed as a national flower; nor even their curious propensity for grammatically convoluted constructions that render the English language into a ‘Scots’ patois that’s impenetrable to anyone without an encyclopaedic knowledge of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels.  Now they’ve devised a timorous wee beastie that the tartan trousered Tam o’Shanters would like to offer to all visitors, and even their own countrymen, women and children, in the shape of the Scottish golf passport.  This royal (Stewart) blue document looks and feels every bit like the genuine article, and holders can expect it to be filled with all the stamps and cyphers of the officials who control the rights of entry to Scotland’s most sacred ground.  That’ll be the county’s golf courses to you and me.

 

 

Yet, the independence referendum is not for at least another two years, raise the cries of international golfing enthusiasts.  Will this mean that players whose lineage cannot be traced back to Musselburgh, Muirfield or Machrihanish, will need some sort of visa arrangement to cross the border and tee-off from any of the 550 odd clubs that form a patchwork quit across the glens and gloaming of the nation that otherwise rightly calls itself the Home of Golf?

Well, not quite.  Regardless of the aspirations of Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party, the requirement to be vetted and declare your handicap at the A1, just north of Berwick upon Tweed, is not about to be passed into law.  No ruddy-faced, strawberry-haired Jimmy McCustoms is going to pull you over, haul out your golf bag and ask if you’ve anything to declare, Pal.

So what does this latest effrontery to the notion of the Act of Union actually conspire to do?  Well, quite the contrary to controlling access to Scotland’s sporting heritage, the Scottish golf passport opens up opportunities for golfers from Scotland, the UK and the world over, to engage with communities and business at large; to turn their golfing excursions into a whole journal of Scottish memories. In its simple form, it’s a journal to record not just wonderful days, spent playing famous or simply fabulous courses from Aviemore to Arran, but a unique memento of visiting Scotland.  It’s even has appeal for non-golfers, if such a thing exists.

The man behind the Scottish golf passport is Alan Webb.  Not so much a golfing nut, Webb was born in North Berwick, the still picturesque seaside resort on the Golf coast of East Lothian.  Almost as soon as he could walk, so he claims, he was working his way from fairway to fairway. From North Berwick itself, to Aberlady and Archerfield, Gullane and Muirfield to Craigielaw and Musselburgh, the oldest course in the world – a pretty nine-holes of links golf, set within the boundaries of Musselburgh Racecourse.  Not of course that the horses run on the same days as the golfers tee-off.  That would be some sort of anarchic polo, all played out within view of the privileged pupils of Lorretto School.  Anarchy is not the way of Alan Webb, nor is it the way of Scottish golf passport.

“Golfers come to Scotland, with a firm agenda”, says Alan Webb.  “It’s to play in the country that gave the game to the world”.  Yet, that ambition takes around four hours out of the day of anyone’s visit, and that is exactly what Scottish golf passport is designed to address. With £200m already contributed annually to the Scottish economy by golf tourism – ‘golfcations’ as christened by Alan Webb – there’s a huge market to be tapped.  “Golfers can enjoy any of Scotland’s 550 clubs”, says Webb, “but that leaves another 20 hours in the day to see and do around Scotland.  The Scottish golf passport is the key that unlocks that opportunity”.

This isn’t just about the great championship courses, like Turnberry, Carnoustie and Loch Lomond Shores – though those Open and Scottish Championship venues are part of the plan – and let’s not forget the Ryder Cup 2014 coming to Gleneagles.  This is about golfing opportunities at lesser-known yet equally appealing locations, all over Scotland.

Imagine a trip to the Scottish Borders, playing the beautifully set parkland of Roxburghe on the estate of the Duke.  For the golfers in the party, there’s the prospect of one of the best courses in Scotland, set alongside the River Tweed and the great viaducts of the long-closed railway line.  Of course, with the Scottish golf passport presented, which may even have been purchased at the pro-shop or in the splendid hotel reception, the party can gain their first stamp as they complete their round. That though is merely the most simple of engagements.  As Alan Webb says, the point of the concept, is to bring not just the golfing community together, but to make golf a more complete part of the whole tourism scene.  “We want to make the passport a driver of interest in all Scotland’s golf courses”, says Webb.  “What makes it unique, is the easy way that it helps promote wider tourism across the whole country.  It’s an inexpensive and fun way for golfers engage with local communities and tourism businesses”.  That might mean in this example, a stamp gained at a visit to nearby Floors Castle, or a day at Kelso Races.  “The passport costs businesses nothing to participate.  Well, maybe the cost of a visit to the local print shop to buy a stamp.  It could be a hotel, a taxi, even an Eyemouth fish and chip shop; business can stamp your passport and help you build a very personal and unique memento of visiting Scotland.  Of course, it’s primarily aimed at golfers, and all the delights that playing here entails, but that’s only part of the day and part of the stay”.

Emphasising the broad appeal even to resident Scots, Iain Gray – the East Lothian member for the Scottish Parliament – pledged his support.  Gray, a keen and accomplished golfer himself, took the ceremonial tee at the launch, held in the welcoming surroundings of Musselburgh Old Course.  He considered his parliamentary colleagues were “right behind” the venture.  After an endangering drive that whistled through the plaid pleats of an intrepid photographer, the former leader of the Scottish Labour Party was presented with Passport number 1924, a reference to the year of Ramsay MacDonald’s first socialist government.  Would that firebrand presbyterian politician have approved?  Surely yes, since his native Lossiemouth Old Course would be a prize stamp on anyone’s Scottish golf passport.  Incidentally the course, part of Moray Golf Club, in North East Scotland, was established in 1889 designed by Old Tom Morris who predicted that it would become the best in the north.  Few would disagree with its right to be considered in such terms – except perhaps Sir Henry Cotton, a modern contemporary of the almost legendary Lutyens of the links, and the designer of the splendid 18-hole New Course, opened in 1979.

 

Back in the south, and quite apart from its historical significance, Musselburgh Old Course is an ideal model for everything the passport stands for.   A round – that’s two laps of the nine holes – costs almost the same as the passport – leaving a few pence change from two of those lavishly illustrated Scottish tenners.  As the course shares its location with the racecourse, there are ample opportunities to have one’s passport stamped for a race day, or even for a dinner visit to the modern Stables Pavilion – the delightfully affordable restaurant, which offers priceless views over both courses and the exceptional East Lothian countryside.  “It’s all about collaboration between tourism businesses, to make visiting Scotland even more memorable, “ says Webb.  He’s not the only one to echo that sentiment.  “Scotland is recognised throughout the world as the Home of Golf”, said a spokesman for VisitScotland.  They never like to be named, do these anonymous advocates in black tartan.  “Scotland is recognised throughout the world as the Home of Golf and any initiative that helps to add to the overall experience of playing a round of golf in this country is to be welcomed.”

There’s more of course.  It would hardly be a Scottish initiative if there wasn’t something canny and prudent about it.  “Don’t worry”, says Alan Webb, “there is”.

Passport holders immediately make a major saving.  As soon as they register their membership, they are on policy, offering excellent golfing cover from a major insurer.  “This is a totally new concept”, says Webb.  “The insurance is the ultimate added value, and makes the passport a bargain in itself”.  Golf clubs, hotels, restaurants, and many other businesses will be able to offer the Scottish golf passport to guests and clients, either as a corporate gift or retail purchase.  “For the tourism industry, and for business at large, it represents a revenue opportunity, whether you play golf or not”, adds Webb.

Online, since everything is nothing these days unless there’s an ‘online’ element, members register their passports to access the insurance, and a host of other benefits, through ‘iCaddy’, the digital membership tool that drives all other commercial collaboration.  So, while you can expect numerous informal referrals, you can thrust yourself into the trust of all things digital – whatever that might mean – and exercise your own preferences at the touch of a screen.

Webb also announced a forthcoming junior version of the passport. A proportion of proceeds from sales will be devoted to developing grass roots interest among the younger generations of golfers.”It’s a tangible social benefit, encouraging young people to take up active, healthy sport and engage with Scotland’s great game”.  Whichever way you look at it, that sounds better than getting ever more pallid in a darken room, wearing out one’s joystick on the latest games console.  Better then for youngsters to become ruddy-faced and acquainted with that jagged and pernicious weed.  In other words, every day, get a little more Scottish, thanks to the golf passport.

The Scottish golf passport retails for £19.80; available online at www.scottishgolfpassport.co.uk

 

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