US golf writer takes a swing at St Andrews Links Trust

Allan Ferguson.
Allan Ferguson.

The advance reservations policies operated by St Andrews Links Trust on the world-famous Old Course have been condemned as “a national scandal” that harms Scotland’s tourism industry.

That’s the view of American golf travel writer Allan Ferguson, who has also blasted the trust’s exclusive contract with a national corporate hospitality firm which operates The Old Course Experience.

The Old Course Experience, the golf division of Keith Prowse Ltd, provides clients with the opportunity to play the Old Course - venue for the 2015 Open Championship - and through its exclusive and unique worldwide contract with the trust is given an allocation of guaranteed tee times on the links between April and October.

The broadside comes in a new edition of Mr Ferguson’s guidebook, entitled Golf in Scotland - A Travel Planning Guide, which also features profiles of dozens of courses across the country.

He says that his “feud” with the trust stems from his work both as an author and golf tour operator and told the Citizen: ”Consider for a moment the inconveniences the links management visit upon golfers the world over.

“First, reservations are not accepted until about six weeks after the Open Championship in late July.

‘‘Secondly, not only do they make their best customers in North America get up in the middle of the night to submit an application at 10am GMT on the first Wednesday in September, they make all those people wait another eight weeks for a reply.

‘‘As a direct result of this time lag, for anyone wanting to play the Old Course, travel planning is effectively put on hold until the end of October.”

This, he claims, has a ‘‘negative effect’’ on everyone involved in Scottish tourism - from airlines, to car rental firms, tour operators, hoteliers and to other golf courses.

He added: ”In short, St Andrews’ policies not only harm Scottish golf tourism, they harm Scots tourism in general. That’s why it is a national scandal.”

Mr Ferguson also hit out at what he labelled as “the ethical issues” surrounding the deal with Keith Prowse Ltd and The Old Course Experience.

He explained: ”Despite operating as a charitable trust charged with protecting the interests of St Andrews residents, the trust found a way in 1995 to justify allowing private interests to profit from selling access to publicly-owned links.

“In other words, the trust, in effect, sells the same product for two different prices - one for the general public and one for the wealthy.”

Mr Ferguson pointed out that all other major golf courses in Scotland - including Carnoustie, Muirfield and Royal Troon - operate their booking systems on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Online booking is available. Everyone is treated equally, with no operator discounts, no handouts to interest groups, hotels and guesthouses and no officially sanctioned profiteering by outside sellers,” he concluded.

A spokesman for St Andrews Links Trust, said: “Mr Ferguson has provided us with similar comments many times over the years and seems to be out of step with the hundreds of golfers from all parts of the world who successfully go through the advanced reservations process.

‘‘We wish him well with the promotion of his new book.”