Like many who love golf, Jeff Bartholomew dreamed of playing in the sport’s birthplace—Scotland. “It’s golf’s ‘mecca,’” he said. “It’s where every golfer wants to go at least once in their life.” Jeff realized his dream in 1995 when he took his dad for his 60th birthday. For two weeks, they played 10 different golf courses up and down Scotland. At one point his dad asked, “Why aren’t you taking more photographs?” Jeff replied, “Because I’m coming back.”
Jeff kept his word. “I had fallen in love with Scotland and links golf,” he said. “I became a student of the British Isles and the golf over there—links golf— and I’ve gone every year since—multiple times some years.” When friends encouraged him to turn his love of golf and travel into a business, Jeff partnered with his son-in-law, Hayden Moore, and Royal Links Golf Tours was born, offering world-class golf experiences in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. It was the perfect venture for both men. Jeff’s dad taught him to play golf when he was about 12. He was on his high school golf team and played frequently while in college at the University of Cincinnati, and later, living in California. Moore, a former quarterback for the University of Cincinnati and the Canadian Football league said, “Golf was my love and passion ever since I was small.”
Before Royal Links Golf Tours took others ‘across the pond,’ Jeff lived in St. Andrews, Scotland, the home of golf, for six weeks and developed relationships with golf courses and other vendors. Initially, Jeff admits, it was all about the golf. But eventually, he realized the most memorable times were those spent off the course. “There’s just a ton of stuff to do over there,” he said. “That’s what sets us apart. It’s not just about the golf, it’s about creating unforgettable golf trips. We are different in that we are all about the experience. We are not just a golf tour company. We recommend several days off from golf to experience the culture of the country they have chosen to golf in. So, we build in stops for traditional Irish or Scottish music, live theater, whiskey tastings, distillery tours, castle tours, guided walking tours of places such as St. Andrews, Dublin or Edinburgh. We offer skeet shooting, fly fishing, tickets to sporting events, dinner reservations, etc. We want our travelers to have not just a memorable experience but rather an unforgettable one.”
Jeff and Hayden build bespoke trips— individually customized trips for a minimum of two people up to groups as large as 16 or more. A seven-night trip with five rounds of golf starts at $4,500 and can go as high as $7,500. Jeff explains that price depends on the chosen golf courses with higher-end or famous courses costing more. Although Jeff and Hayden love every links course in the British Isles, Jeff said most people want to play the championship courses. “We steer them to what we call ‘diamonds in the rough’—lesser-known but excellent courses,” he said.
Accommodation choices, which can range from B&Bs to five-star hotels, and transportation choices also affect the price. “On these trips, we offer a concierge driver who acts as the tour guide,” Jeff said. “If they elect to self-drive, we have a ‘greeter’ at the airport to meet them and get them situated, acclimated, and ready to drive.” Royal Links Golf Tours also offers several ‘group trips’ each year that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Jeff and Hayden accompany these groups.
With Georgia offering so many great golf courses close to home, some might argue there’s no need to travel overseas. While Jeff agrees that Georgia has many great courses, he points out that they are all or mostly tree-lined. “We prefer links golf, which is seaside and treeless,” he said. “You can only do that in the British Isles and a few other remote spots. There are 247 true links courses in the world and 211 of them are in the British Isles. “Golf was started in Scotland and there is something about playing links golf that harkens back to when golf was founded. Some might even say the way it was meant to be played. Also, it’s about the whole experience—the culture, the food, the people’s accents, the driving on the left side of the road.” Can Jeff claim any Scottish ancestors? “No,” he admits with a laugh. “But I feel Scottish.” He is even a member of the historic Moray Golf Club in Lossiemouth, Scotland, which was founded in 1889.
Jeff advises golf tourists to bring their own clubs or have them shipped ahead. But he also warns they should expect a learning curve. “Playing links golf is different,” he said. “In the US, we play the ball through the air, and in links golf, we play the ball along the ground. We do that to avoid the wind which can be heavy over there. Playing the ball low, hitting run-up shots, pitch-and-runs, and putting from well off the green takes some practice, and some getting used to.”
Although it’s always best to call for updates, Jeff said the British Isles are opening since Covid. “At the moment, fully-vaccinated travelers can enter the British Isles, and all they have to do is fill out a ‘passenger locator form’ prior to arrival.” When’s the best time to go? “June, July and August are the high season, which means increased crowds, fewer tee times, and higher costs,” Jeff said. “The high season over there has a lot more sunshine which allows for more tee times, which drives more crowds. Traveling in the shoulder months—April/May and September/October—is typically a better experience for the golfers. The shoulder season has about three fewer hours of sunshine, so fewer tee times and smaller crowds.”
In addition to trips to the British Isles, Royal Links Golf Tours has a trip to Italy planned for this fall. The couples’ trip will include six nights and three rounds of golf in Tuscany between Siena and Florence as well as two nights in Rome with one round of golf at the nearby Marco Simone Golf Club where the 2023 Ryder Cup will be held. All breakfasts and dinners are included as well as tours of wineries, Florence, Siena, and Rome. “It will be spectacular!” Jeff said.
For more information about Royal Links Golf Tours visit royallinksgolftours.com.