People often compare the golf at Oregon's Bandon Dunes, No. 1 in our latest ranking of North America's top resorts, to the great seaside courses of the British Isles. Typical is the author Harry Beard, whom Golf Digest sent to Bandon in 2003. "From the moment we teed off," he wrote, "I found it hard to believe I wasn't in Ireland."
Gazing at a chart of the euro--down about 17 percent versus the dollar since the summer of 2007--I began to wonder about the economics of the Bandon--Ireland comparison. Surely traveling to the Oregon coast is less expensive than heading to Ireland if you live in the western United States. But what about American golfers elsewhere? For them, travel times are about the same to Ireland or Bandon, which requires at least two flights from almost everywhere.
So how do the costs compare? I priced three trips for mid-June of this year: one at Bandon Dunes, one along Ireland's southwest coast and, for good measure, one to St. Andrews, Scotland. All began in New York and included airfare, ground transportation, four nights of good, quality double-occupancy lodging, six rounds of very high-end golf, caddies, food and tips.
Talk about dream golf trips. Three of the Bandon 18s are among America's 100 Greatest Public Courses. The fourth, Old Macdonald, was too new to make that list in 2011, but it's a favorite for 2013.
The Ireland itinerary, in a package created by New Jersey-based Celtic Golf, features these marquee names: Old Head, Waterville, Tralee, Ballybunion (Old), Doonbeg and Lahinch. On the St. Andrews trip, organized by North Carolina tour operator PerryGolf, you'd play St. Andrews' Old, New and Castle courses, plus Carnoustie, Crail (Balcomie) and Kingsbarns.
And the pricing? Bandon and Ireland were pretty close, at $3,419 and $3,661 per person, respectively. Scotland was $4,666. Note: This is without a guaranteed tee time on the Old Course. You're taking your chances on the daily ballot, or lottery. Given that you're in the area for four days, I'd say the odds are high that you'll get on the Old Course before heading home.
International airfares make a big difference in the pricing. Though I found non-red-eye round trips from New York to North Bend, Ore., for $628, the cheapest flight I could get to Ireland or Scotland was $958.
Once you're on the ground, the costs are similar. In Ireland, not only has the weaker euro benefited American tourists, but the global recession has forced some courses to cut their green fees. "Ireland has awakened to the fact that they may have gotten a little ... 'arrogant,' some might say," says Jerry Quinlan, owner of Celtic Golf. "They've come back to their senses."
He cites two examples: Old Head, which once charged ¬300 a round, now gets ¬160 when booked through his firm, and Lahinch, which "has come down below ¬100, when it used to charge in the ¬150 range." (As of early March, ¬1 was equal to about $1.32.)
The British pound has slid against the dollar in recent years, too, helping American golfers bound for Scotland. Gordon Dalgleish, president of PerryGolf, says one of his customers is repeating a 2007 trip but paying about 25 percent less, partly because he's staying one less night but also because the dollar is up 31 percent against the pound since that fall.
Actual rate-chopping by courses and hotels is less common in Scotland, Dalgleish contends. "Ireland's been far more aggressive in pricing," he says. "Their courses are going back to 2004 and even 2001 levels. But Scottish courses haven't." Says Barbara Clark, a spokeswoman for Scotland's tourism office: "We are the Home of Golf!"
So, if you're one of those many American golfers for whom the price difference is negligible, what'll it be, Bandon or the British Isles? There are advantages going in either direction. One of the great things about Bandon is you can stay in one place the whole time. Yet, on an international trip, roaming from town to town is often a big part of the adventure. My advice: Toss the economics aside and go with what sounds most fun to you. Having taken golf trips to both Bandon and the British Isles, I know you wouldn't be disappointed with either.