Travel: Value-for-money golf holidays

CRIPPLING costs are par for the course on a golfing holiday, right? Wrong, says Robin McKelvie, as he visits value-for-money venues

Scotland may be both the physical and the spiritual home of golf, but many Scots presume that heading off on a golf break here will necessitate re-mortgaging their home. If you have your heart set on a suite and a week with your own caddie, taking on a global icon like St Andrews or Gleneagles, then it just might. Thankfully, many less- heralded courses and places to stay offer golf breaks that mere mortals can afford. Better still, there are attractions to keep the rest of the family happy.

The South Beach Hotel in Troon is a comfortable 32-room three-star abode you could spend a weekend in without even realising that it offers golf breaks. But it certainly does, with golfers of all abilities encouraged to base themselves here as the ideal way of discovering Ayrshire’s legendary courses. The South Beach Hotel was nominated for Golf Hotel of the Year by Golf Tourism Scotland in 2008 and it is easy to see why, with thoughtful touches, such as golf club storage and drying facilities.

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In the Burgh of Troon alone, there are five golf courses; within a 20-mile radius are a dozen more. There is everything from great value municipal courses, such as Lochgreen, Darley and Fullarton, right through to a round on the world-famous Royal Troon. Packages can be tailored to suit your golfing needs and can include transfers, conference and corporate events, and other facilities for large golf parties.

Non-golfers can just enjoy the views from the sea-facing bedrooms at the South Beach, which gaze out over Ailsa Craig and the peaks of Arran. The conservatory, garden and residents’ lounge are close at hand, while Troon boasts plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as seaside strolls.

In the north-east is another good- value place to stay that offers easy access to a slew of golf courses. Mansion House Hotel and Country Club lies within its own grounds right on the banks of the River Lossie, just outside Elgin’s historic centre.

If you like your golf breaks with a reassuringly old-world feel, this is the place for you as the building is a 19th-century Baronial mansion which has been updated with all mod cons. Push the boat out a bit and you can snooze off in a four-poster bed.

Golfers can enjoy a quartet of courses within very easy reach of Mansion House. There is the Elgin Golf Club, founded in 1906 with its challenging heathland par-69 course that measures 6,401 yards and is regarded as one of the finest inland courses in northern Scotland. Nearby Forres was designed by British Open winners James Braid and Willie Park, a par-70, 6,300 yard parkland course that offers sweeping views over Findhorn Bay and the Moray Firth. Moray Golf Club offers a brace of courses, designed by Old Tom Morris and Henry Cotton, while Kinloss Golf Club offers a parkland course that can be played as two very different nine-hole courses or the full 18 holes.

Non-golfers can relax in the hotel’s health and leisure club with its indoor swimming pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room. Then there are the bountiful local whisky distilleries to explore, as Mansion House reclines right in the heart of Speyside whisky country. In Elgin, the remarkable cathedral beckons, as do the cosy charms of Johnstons of Elgin’s cashmere outlet and the whisky oasis of Gordon & MacPhail, where you can pick up some rare malts and unusual expressions.

Pushing further north into the Highlands north of Inverness is an ideal option for groups. Balnagown Estates offers a wide choice of luxury self-catering lodges, cottages and houses spread across Balnagow, Invercassley and Duchally estates. Luxury and comfort are the order of the day – the Balnagown Estate is owned by Mohamed Al Fayed, after all –but the self-catering element really keeps costs down for groups.

None of the trio of Balnagown estates has its own golf course, but the locations are ideal for golfing breaks as some excellent courses lie within easy reach, ranging from Tain, Brora and Golspie, right through to Royal Dornoch, the latter considered one of the world’s finest courses. Then there is Castle Stuart, one of the most exciting courses in Europe whether it continues to host the Scottish Open or not.

You don’t have to leave any of the three estates if you don’t want to swing a club but still get active. On site there is everything from bike trails and walking, through to target archery, clay pigeon shooting and even stalking.

Balnagown also boasts a sports hall where you can play badminton, basketball, volleyball, pool and table tennis.

For a unique perspective, Balnagown Estate’s soaring old water tower has been converted into an observation tower that really opens up the epic beauty of this charming corner of Scotland.

From just a brief look at these three very different accommodation options dotted around Scotland, it is clear that to enjoy a golf break you don’t need to start the year by piling up an overdraft. Stay at one of these golf-friendly hotels and self-catering options, or many others elsewhere around the country, and you will make it to the 18th hole with enough money left to afford a round at the 19th.