This post is the third in a series about planning a golf trip to Scotland. The first post was How to Plan a Golf Trip to Scotland and the second covered Where to Play on a Golf Trip to Scotland – enjoy!
When golfers think about a golf trip to Scotland, “where to play” is the first thing that comes to mind. However, when to play is perhaps the even better question.
The bulk of readers that I speak to want to take their Scotland trips in June, July, or August. Their reasoning is that the weather is better in the summer. It seems like a natural choice, but each month brings with it a set of pros and cons, all of which I’ll explore in this article.
The weather can be terrible in Scotland all year round. You can have absolutely perfect days in November and you can have cold rain for a week in July. We had three weeks one April in St Andrews where I never saw a cloud in the sky. The average days with precipitation in St Andrews is lower in April than in July. Knowing that it can rain in any month, your main consideration should be temperatures.
March/April will have temperatures in the mid-40s to mid 50s (F) and July/August experience average temperatures in the 60s (F). Frost delays are a common occurrence through the winter and even into the shoulder seasons. If you have the choice, don’t book 7AM tee times because you could end up waiting until 10AM for the course to thaw. Keep in mind that on the St Andrews Old Course, frost delays don’t delay tee times – instead, the early frost-delayed tee times are cancelled.
Many of the modern links such as Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, and Trump Aberdeen actually close in November and re-open in March/April.
Light and Avoiding “Busy Dates”
Another large factor when considering off-season travel to Scotland should be light. Scotland is on a higher latitude than Nova Scotia, so the days are very short in the winter and very long in the summer. We’re talking sunrise around 8:30AM and sunset around 3:30PM in the winter. Follow that with 4:30AM sunrises and 10:30PM sunsets in the summer (mid June has the longest days of the year). This means final tee times in the summer fall as late as 5:30 or even 6PM.
Light spills into quite a few other factors when planning your trip. Playing 36 holes in a day during the off-season, or even the shoulder seasons, can be a difficult task! Shorter days also mean fewer tee times up for grabs. That being said, fewer traveling golfers means less competition for those times. If you want to enter the Old Course ballot or get a tee time at Muirfield, the shoulder seasons often provide much higher success rates.
You should also consider what are generally called “busy dates” at courses. These are days when the course is hosting an event and is closed to the public. Busy dates can be infrequent at some courses and very common at others. In all cases, check a club’s website before assuming a set of dates will be open. A great example is the St Andrews Links Trust. Check their busy dates here, but you’ll find that the St Andrews Old Course is closed for a total of one week in July, five days in August, 12 days in September, 13 days in October. You don’t want to be surprised when you enter the booking phase of your trip planning! For more about the order in which you should plan your trip, check out the Scotland Golf Trip To-Do List.
Rates and Course Conditions
Shoulder season rates can be a great way to save money on your trip. You can expect anywhere from a 20-50% discount off peak (summer) tee time rates from March to April and September to October.
One consideration is the mats that some courses make golfers use when hitting from the fairway. The small piece of artificial turf ensures that you don’t take divots that would struggle to heal through the winter. They take some getting used to, but I have found that they never ruined a round of golf for me. Mats are generally in play at courses from November 1 to March 31st, but each course is different.
A final factor is course conditioning. While many courses are in great shape over the winter and off-season, some utilize winter greens and others cut down the fescue rough substantially before it grows back in the spring and early summer. Be prepared for courses that don’t look like the postcard if you choose to play in the early shoulder season. If course conditions are important to you, but you still want to visit in a shoulder season, consider going in September or October when the courses have grown through the summer and have not yet been cut or moved to winter setups.
When I Would Go
If you don’t mind paying high season rates, I think that late May and/or early June is the best time to visit Scotland for golf. The courses and hotels aren’t too busy, the days are long, and the courses are in great shape.
If you want to take advantage of shoulder season rates, I recommend April. The days can be cold and the courses are just coming out of the winter, but you can experience tremendous trip at a massive discount.
–Scottish Golf Travel Podcast (a great site and podcast dedicated to Scottish golf travel)
–Visit St Andrews (perfect for local tips and recommendations)
–Scottish Golf Trip Planner (a section of my site dedicated to planning your own trip)
–Scottish Course Reviews (my large database of Scottish course reviews)
If you would like help planning your own golf trip to Scotland, have a look at the Scottish Golf Trip Consulting feature on the website. It provides an alternative for golfers who want to avoid costly tour companies, but don’t have the time or knowledge to plan a trip themselves. Additionally, you can always leave a comment below and I’ll respond as soon as possible.