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  • Writer's pictureAlan Tait

Wonderful Castle Stuart & Scottish Golf Tourism Week

Updated: Apr 6




After spending a couple of days in beautiful Aviemore mid March, my highlands journey continued northbound for Inverness for “Scottish Golf Tourism Week”. A fantastic few days which creates a platform for businesses in Scotland to engage with international inbound golf tour operators through 1-2-1 appointments, familiarization trips and nightly networking sessions ( more commonly known as beers and wine ), which sees over 100 Scottish golf businesses and 90 tour operators take part.




In my role with Golfbreaks ( Europe’s biggest golf tour operator ), it’s an event I always enjoy. As well as the social aspect, great food and lots of networking, it’s a busy time for me with 44 x 15 minute appointments spread over 2 days. The 15 minute appointments give businesses such as golf clubs / resorts, accommodation providers, transporters, distilleries, a window to showcase their product to the tour operator and see what opportunities a partnership can bring for both parties ( it’s a bit like speed dating without the awkwardness )! These appointments also let me catch up with current venues whom Golfbreaks already work with, and it’s just great to catch up with colleagues and friends old and new.


One of the perks of events like this are the FAM (familiarization) trips, where a local venue will invite you along to sample their food & beverage offerings, stay overnight in a hotel, try some of Scotland’s finest whiskey from local distilleries, and of course play golf at some wonderful Scottish venues. You could say we are a little spoiled for a few days! This couldn’t have been more apparent as all the tour operators were invited to play world class “Cabot Highlands Castle Stuart” in the early part of the week.





Castle Stuart is still regarded relatively new, having opened in 2009. The course was designed by the late Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse and what a job these fine men did in creating one of the best and fun golf courses you’ll ever play. I’m luckier than most in that I’ve experienced Castle Stuart at least 15-20 times and fortunate to also play in the annual 3 day Tomatin Highland Links Pro Am in early October every year which is at Castle Stuart, Royal Dornoch and Nairn. Now, that’s not a bad gig!


As well as having enjoyed playing the course on many occasions, I was also incredibly lucky to work for BBC Radio Scotland as an on course commentator when Castle Stuart welcomed the world’s best golfers when hosting The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open from 2011 to 2013. An incredible experience walking with the superstars of the modern game and see up close, “how the game should be played”. One of my favourite memories was talking to Amy Mickelson ( wife of Phil ) and their children, maybe 30 minutes after Phil had just won the event in 2013 following a play-off with South African Branden Grace. She told me that Phil had been talking for months about how excited he was to be going to Scotland for 2 weeks to play in The Scottish Open and then The Open Championship the following week at Muirfield. Amy mentioned that the Castle Stuart win will have meant everything to him to win in Scotland, the country where it all began. I can therefore only imagine how her hubby felt when a few days later he then lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield to win The Open Championship. What a 2 weeks for the Mickelson family in The Home of Golf!



Anyway enough of talking about golfing legends, let’s get back to me and my familiarization trip! I arrived at Cabot Highlands Castle Stuart ( it was taken over in 2022 by Canadian based golf developer Cabot, and was rebranded as “Cabot Highlands” but it will always be Castle Stuart to me ), to meet my fellow tour operators before we headed out on to the links. The entrance as you drive in to the venue keeps you intrigued. The long grass around the narrow road keeps everything hidden for a moment or two before the fantastic art deco inspired clubhouse appears, with The Moray Firth in the background. Stunning, dramatic and beautiful.



I talked earlier about experiencing Castle Stuart, and it really is all of that. When I say “experience” it really is a true “golf experience.” The aforementioned clubhouse with it’s unbelievable views, the practice facilities, the food, the course, the staff and the welcome. A familiar face in the clubhouse is the one and only Elspeth Beardwood who I’ve known for years. I defy anyone who claim they get a better welcome at any other venue in the country!



Once spotted, I got my usual huge smile and a shriek of “Taity how are you big man”, followed by the usual bear hug that normally cracks a rib or two. Now I’m conscious I get a bigger welcome than most, but Elspeth is fantastic with everyone and you’ll be made to feel at home within minutes. All the team are superb, engaging, and unlike Elspeth at least with some of the staff you can get a word in sideways 😊!!


The guys I was meant to be playing with didn’t turn up at the 1st tee. To be fair it’s a laid back day and although there’s an official draw, the tour operators / players end up doing their own thing and anything goes really. I ended up going in the next group, met the boys and away we went. The 1st hole is a great opener. The fairway is as wide as The River Clyde (big river that goes through Glasgow), but bizarrely it can mess with your head. There’s gorse all the way down the left and The Moray Firth is on your right, so guess where your mind is for the first shot of the day? Bushes or water? Oh the game of golf!



The fairways at Castle Stuart are possibly the most generous you’ll ever play on a course of championship pedigree. But that was the concept from the very beginning and it works fantastically well. The designers wanted golfers to come from all over the world and enjoy golf in Scotland without feeling too distressed on every tee box. Don’t be fooled though with the big wide fairways, the rest of the course will test your talent ( or lack of it ) to the absolute hilt. The approach shots to the greens are everything. Get them wrong and you’re in trouble, big time ( as you will see a wee problem I had )! The “run offs” and the bunkering around the greens are brilliantly and cleverly designed by Messrs Parsinen and Hanse.


I could make a case for pretty much every hole at Castle Stuart, but my own personal favourite is the short par 3 11th. From the very back championship black tee, it sits at only 144 yards…. No big deal eh? Wrong! From a raised tee you are hitting directly towards the Moray Firth with the green in front. The water is literally inches off to the left and behind the green, which also has deep bunkers left, right and short. As intimidating as it can be, you’ll be in awe of the hole, its surroundings and the beauty. Over the years, I’ve hit everything from a pitching wedge to a wee gripped down 5 iron, depending on what the wind and the tide is up to. I love all that stuff. The game would be boring if it was easy and terribly predictable. Taity loves a challenge!



After another wonderful highlands experience it was back in the clubhouse and time for a wee bowl of piping hot soup, a pint, and another cracked rib hug from Elspeth before I headed back to the conference 😉! If this hasn’t been enough for you, get this….. There’s a second course currently being built and designed by the brilliant Tom Doak. I had a wee sneak preview pre Christmas when my good friend Jeremy Matte ( Director of Golf at CS ), showed me around and teased me what is next to come. A “soft” opening is planned for Autumn 2025 and from what I’ve seen so far, we are not going to be disappointed. Will be fantastic! I’m often asked, “what’s my favourite golf course / experience in Scotland”. It changes every year as courses and the “experiences” evolve. Without offending others however, Castle Stuart has never been outside my top 3 since its arrival in 2009. If it's not on your golf bucket list folks, then it should be!



Accommodation near Castle Stuart is plentiful. Loads of hotels, B&B’s in Inverness and the surrounding areas. Inverness Airport is literally 5-6 minutes from the course and so easily accessible. Regular daily flights from London, so a great commute for those coming from all over the world via Gatwick and other major UK airports.


Amongst other accommodation providers, Golfbreaks partner with The Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness who were also hosting Scottish Golf Tourism Week. I can honestly say the venue was faultless. The organization, quality of bedrooms / meeting rooms, food and beverage, service etc was exceptional. Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre was the host for the dinner and awards on the final night and what a brilliant venue for weddings, and events such as this. Only downside was they couldn’t turn the air conditioning off so the marquee was a bit on the cold side. Didn’t detract from a great night in great company, with superb food and drink to warm us all up.



Definitely one of the best Scottish Golf Tourism Week’s I’ve ever attended and well done to all the hard working organisers. Fantastic to catch up with so many good people and friends. My colleague and friend Fabiana at Golfbreaks who accompanied me to SGTW I think forgets what age I am and what age she is, but that didn’t stop her leading me astray to Jonny Foxes ( night club ) in the town centre until the small hours of the morning during the week! Thank you for that Fabi. This ole boy is still suffering!

 



Glenmuir - www.glenmuir.com  Sunderland of Scotland -www.glenmuir.com/Sunderland

 

Planning your golf trip to Cabot Highlands Castle Stuart or Inverness-shire? Check out the Golfbreaks website or contact me at ATait@golfbreaks.com and I’ll be happy to help you plan a fantastic trip to the beautiful highlands..…

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