While most folks are thinking of turkey and football this time of year, some golfers are dreaming of Scotland and Ireland. Why? Because when families get together for the holidays, that's when many of them start considering golf trips together, particularly near the birthplace of our sport.
And if you're thinking about a golf pilgrimage across the pond next summer, you should probably get busy now. In fact, it's not a bad idea to think a year or more in advance to book the best courses at the best times, but you definitely don't want to wait until next year. That could be too late.
"The later you in the year you start planning to book for next year, the less success you're going to have in terms of securing consecutive golf courses on consecutive days," says Marty Carr, CEO of the Carr Group and Carr Golf Travel, a Dublin, Ireland-based tour operator that puts together trips and packages to Scotland and Ireland.
And next year should be a particularly busy year with the Ryder Cup returning to Scotland the first time since 1973 (Muirfield). It will be played on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, Sept. 26-28.
"Visitor numbers to Scotland are expected to surge," says Mike Brassil, travel executive for Carr Golf Travel, "meaning tee times are going to be scarce."
But certainly not impossible, especially if you start planning and putting together your journey now.
Carr's advice -- although he admits is a bit self-serving -- is to use a reputable tour operator, which also sets up meals, accommodations and a few other activities.
While almost every course has public access, it can be limited. For example, Carr points out that Muirfield only takes outside play on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the Old Course at St. Andrews is closed on Sundays. "So you've got to work all those nuances into the flow of the trip," he says.
And if you're looking to book anything that's hot, earlier is certainly better.
Video: Ginella on Southwest Ireland
One new course that's getting rave reviews is the new Trump International, ranked No. 1 on Golfweek's best modern list for Great Britain and Ireland. Located in Scotland between Aberdeen and Cruden Bay, it rivals Kingsbarns as the best modern course in Scotland. And best of all, it's surrounded by several other great courses, including Cruden Bay, which you will also want to play.
"I think one of the smartest things Donald Trump did was that he retained Martin Hawtree, who in my view is the best links golf course designer in the world – by far," Carr says. "The feedback we're getting from customers is fantastic."
Again, the easiest way to play Trump International, and many other courses is Scotland and Ireland, would be to book a package. Carr Golf is offering an eight-day Trump Tour as well as several others for 2014, including a Royal Troon/Turnberry Tour and a Fife package that guarantees a tee time at the Old Course.
Ireland, of course, is no less desirable. Examples of Carr packages include: Dublin, where you can play The European Club, Port Marnock, The K Club and Royal Dublin, just to name a few; and the Best of the Southwest package, where you fly into Shannon Airport and play the likes of Old Head, Waterville, Tralee, Ballybunion, Doonbeg and Lahinch.
Old Head, by the way, was designed Carr's father, Joe Carr, a world-class Irish amateur player in the 1940s, '50s and 60s. And it's the site for a couple of family tournaments that Carr Golf Travel operates – the World Invitational Father& Daughter (July 20-23) and Celtic Couples Challenge (dates TBA). Carr's World Invitational Father & Son Tournament is conducted at Waterville in August. All of this could make for stimulating Thanksgiving dinner conversation.