Back to all posts

A Price Hack for Links Hackers

Golf in Great Britain and Ireland has become expensive – here’s a cost-saving work-around that’s also a boatload of fun

by Jim Sutherland

One of the courses to play in these tournaments is the great links layout at Ballyliffin Golf Club, on Ireland’s northwest coast.

Not so long ago, golf in places like Scotland and Ireland required a bit of advance work but netted out as a screaming bargain, especially considering the quality of the courses.

Alas, the top links now charge more than 300 pounds or euros (that’s $400 or $500), and the second tier isn’t much cheaper.

So, how about a completely different way of organizing your old-country golf escape, one that adds a dose of friendly competition while chopping green fees by up to half. Until recently this nifty hack was mostly the domain of locals, but recent streamlining of the World Handicap System makes it an easier proposition for North Americans, or those of us, at least, who sport a valid handicap from the USGA or Golf Canada.

Full details follow, but first let’s scroll back to 2019 when 12 of us, mostly members of clubs in Vancouver, B.C., became pioneers of sorts by journeying to Ireland to enter three teams of four in the Donegal Links Classic, held in Ireland.

For 155 euros per person, we got tournament rounds on Rosapenna (Sandy Hills), Ballyliffin (Old) and Portsalon, all of them classic links that rank among Ireland’s top 25 courses. Also thrown in were a banquet and prizes, not to mention a cut-rate practice round at Rosapenna and generous helpings of what the Irish call “craic,” known elsewhere as plain old fun.

Reasonably priced accommodation packages were offered, but instead we rented three vacation homes, each for a week, in the seaside resort town of Rathmullan, paying about $1,000 per. Total cost for our week of magical golf came to about $500 each.

Of course, that’s not counting flights and food. Or refreshments. Of which there were many.

One of the many pubs in the town of Rathmullan in the northwest corner of Ireland, which is surrounded by numerous great links.

Now, what would the tally have been otherwise? Switching back to 2024, the entry fee has rocketed to €300 (roughly $330 US or $450 CDN). Outrageous, except that green fees for the three courses would now total €570, and that’s without the prizes, banquet or deep-discount practice round. A week of hotel rooms and an additional round or two would be at least that much again, so figure on well over a thousand euros, and probably more like €1500. Advantage: tournament!

This year the Donegal Links Classic runs from May 27 to 29, but if that doesn’t fit your calendar, chances are one of about 20 other similar tournaments in Ireland and Northern Ireland will, ranging from the Atlantic Coast Golf Challenge (Carne, Enniscrone, County Sligo) in July, to the West Coast Challenge (Bundoran, Enniscrone, Strandhill, Donegal Murvagh Links) in September.

These events were concocted by clubs to fill midweek tee sheets during pre-Covid times when golf courses weren’t perpetually jammed. Heaven knows why they still do it, but let’s just saunter slowly along with our hands clasped behind our backs, peering skyward and whistling to ourselves.

To play in these events you can take the DIY approach, as we did, or throw in with a tour operator like Sullivan Golf Travel, which is been the official travel partner of the PNGA for more than a dozen years.

The author’s wife, Jessie (left), with her team during a recent tournament in Ireland.

There are two potential drawbacks to the Irish challenges. One is the need to pull together a team of four, the other is that most fill up well in advance, years in the case of some. Thus, we present two additional tournament hacks.

From a value perspective, there’s nothing like entering a humble open competition mounted by a local club or society. Scotland, for example, has about 500 golf courses, and a big chunk offer such a tournament, often charging as little as 20 pounds (about $25 US or $34 CDN) for your tournament round.

The challenge with these is, first, identifying the one you want to play, and then managing to get yourself entered, as registration tends to be via email inquiry and the idea of accepting North Americans is only vaguely dawning. I’ve personally tried to find a tournament open to my wife and I, and ultimately given up, but for those who want to take a stab, Golf Empire ( offers the closest thing to a comprehensive list of possibilities.

So, onto the third option: Links Golf Cup (, a tournament trail that mirrors the Irish challenges in a lot of ways but is based across the water in England and Scotland, while also traveling to a few wintertime sun destinations. The green fee discounts run to more like a third versus the challenges’ half, but the courses are every bit as choice and the tournaments have the advantage of being geared to singles and pairs, rather than foursomes. For some you’ll need to find your own accommodation, while others are offered as packages.

Having played last year in a pairs tournament encompassing four links in Ayrshire, just south of Glasgow, I can vouch that these are friendly and well-run affairs. In March of this year, eight of headed from Vancouver to Portugal’s Silver Coast for another pairs tournament, where we were treated with more of the same.

Like the challenges, the tournaments come with prizes and a wrap-up dinner, while adding the frisson of being matched with players from a distant land. They do fill up, however, so better get onto it, pronto.

Jim Sutherland is a former editor of Vancouver and Western Living magazines in British Columbia who amuses himself by writing humorous novels with a golf connection, including Snap Slice (2013) and Good Grief (2020), both set in the Pacific Northwest and available on Amazon.