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Royal Aberdeen’s Doors Close to Visitors

Royal Aberdeen has decided to close visitor applications for the remainder of the 2015 season following a decision made by the club’s committee last month.

The somewhat open-ended statement on their website reads;

“The committee of Royal Aberdeen Golf Club have made the decision not to accept any more visitor bookings during the 2015 season. Visitors who live at least 100 miles outwith the area may play our championship course, Balgownie Links provided they have a handicap of 24 or under.”

The decision comes less than 12 months after the club played host to the 2014 Scottish Open, won by Englishman Justin Rose and a field which included the following week’s crowned Open Champion, a tradition formed since the Scottish Open moved to Castle Stuart in 2011.

So what might you ask is the big deal, after all Royal Aberdeen is one of the oldest members’ clubs in the world?

Royal Aberdeen Neighbours Murcar, Trump International & Cruden Bay (Image Credit Press & Journal)

Royal Aberdeen Neighbours Murcar, Trump International & Cruden Bay (Image Credit Press & Journal)

1. Restricted Visitor Play

The course is hardly overran with visitors, in fact reported a drop in visitor play for the 2014 season to 4,000 visitor rounds. This was obviously partly due to the course being shut for almost a month for the staging of the Scottish Open but a sign perhaps of the club’s growing angst with the visitor/member balance.

One of Scotland’s largest golf tour operators commented,

“Changed days indeed from when they (Royal Aberdeen GC) were desperate to attract more visitors.”

The comment refers to Royal Aberdeen’s efforts in recent times to increase visitor numbers working closely with selected golf tour operators. The source continued by stating that they received a short advisory email notifying them that the committee has decided not to accept any further bookings this season. Designated visitor play at the start of this season included 90 minute mid morning and afternoon slots and weekend play after 3.30pm.

2. Hosting Scottish Open Carries With It Social Responsibility

The most profound argument of all comes in the shape of the various Scottish Open stakeholders who in recent years have worked tremendously hard in transforming the Scottish Open into one of the biggest tournaments of the year on the European Tour. The Scottish Government backed Visit Scotland, as one of the major event sponsors currently invests £1.2 million annually into the Scottish Open.

The event will be beamed globally by a network of broadcasters including Sky Sports in the UK and throughout the United States by NBC, all of which helps to promote Scotland, the Home of Golf as a fantastic golf tourism destination. Over the three years of the deal, the Scottish Government, through Visit Scotland, will provide £1.2 million of funding each years towards the hosting of the tournament. (Visit Scotland News Release,2013)

So lets get this right. The golf fanatic sitting at home in Austin, Texas watching golf beamed into his living room live from Scotland thanks to Golf Channel’s extensive coverage, that feels compelled to golf in Scotland, at Royal Aberdeen, can’t? Surely any venue agreeing to host the Scottish Open with Visit Scotland as a major stakeholder must carry a social responsibility? An obligation that when the Visit Scotland marketing efforts actually come to fruition, that as host venue will have the foresight to see it through. After all anyone who has planned a golf trip with friends or family understand these things take time and more often than not, patience. A golf trip aspiration in July 2014 might only foster into something more structured many months later.

With that this year’s Scottish Open venue Gullane has given us assurances that their visitor policy will remain the same for the 2016 season;

“Visitor tee times will be the same in 2016 as they are for 2015. We open for 2016 bookings next week!”

3. Regional Social Responsibility

While Visit Scotland work on a national level to drive tourism into the country they have in recent times worked to grow individual regions within Scotland. So instead of Royal Aberdeen being embedded into the same itinerary as Turnberry, Royal Troon, Old Course, St Andrews and Dornoch the golfing visitor is made aware of the extensive golf offering in the specific regions under the Scotland ‘brand’, in the hope he/she make multiple visits to the various golf destinations across the country.

Scotland's distinct golf regions.

Scotland’s distinct golf regions.

With Aberdeen and the northeast as  one such reason the addition of Trump International Golf Links in 2012 has really helped place Aberdeen on the map with many golf tour operators for the first time this year reporting Aberdeen specific golfing itineraries, testament to the extensive golf offering in the region. Increased room nights in Aberdeen has seen Cruden Bay increase visitor play by 40% helping keep member subs down and allowing the club to invest in the improvement of the course, not for visitors but for it’s members. It leads me to wonder if this kind of unilateral decision has negative implications in the area. Take Fraserburgh Golf Club for instance, on the brink financially and relying on increased visitor numbers to get by. Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay & Trump International all within 18 miles and 40 minutes drive. As lures go, that’s as big and appetising as it gets for golf tourists. Once based in Aberdeen the pleasant delights of Murcar, Fraserburgh, Newburgh and Peterhead are waiting to be discovered.

4. World Class Golf

Selfishly I’d like to see golfers from around the world get a fair level of access to this wonderful course, for the club to stage future Scottish Opens and with it help bring more visitors to Scotland. The quality of the course has never been questioned. The front nine pictured below runs in a ravine of natural dunes offering arguably the strongest collective front nine anywhere on the planet. I understand the club’s traditional outlook. It’s member focus and rightful aspirations to stage future R&A Championships.

But with all sincerity, would a dozen more visitors a day really prohibit this from happening?

Sometimes less is more but on this occasion feels more like squander.

Royal Aberdeen's Front is often descrived as one of the best in the world. (Image Credit Visit Scotland )

Royal Aberdeen’s Front is often descrived as one of the best in the world. (Image Credit Visit Scotland )



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