Stuart McColm, general manager, Castle Stuart Golf Links
For any golf club keen to develop their profile in the North American market, Miami is the place to be over the next few days.
Attending the 9th North American Golf Tourism Convention is a full-on whirlwind of meetings with tour operators that provides an unparalleled opportunity to promote Castle Stuart as a must-play venue and the Highlands as a major golf destination.
This huge gathering is organised by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), the global trade organisation for the golf tourism industry whose membership includes 650 specialist golf tour operators in 61 countries, as well as golf resorts, hotels, courses, airlines, tourist boards, approved media and business partners.
It is estimated that IAGTO operators control some 87 per cent of international golf holiday packages sold worldwide and in the last year they have carried two million golfers with a turnover of more than $2.5 billion.
During the convention delegates have the opportunity to introduce themselves to all buyers during two hours of ‘speed-dating’, followed by nine-and-a-half hours of meetings over two days. During this time we can have up to 38 appointments of 15 minutes each with tour operators. An exhausting but unmissable timetable to allow us to showcase our renowned location and links.
There is much to cram into those 15 minutes. Castle Stuart’s spectacular setting and commanding views over the Moray Firth for one, and its impact on players and raters since it opened in 2009, debuting at No 56 in the world in Golf Magazine and being named as No 9 in Golf World’s Top 100 courses in Scotland this year.
Created by Mark Parsinen, co-designer of Kingsbarns Golf Links, and Gil Hanse, the man behind the 2016 Olympic course in Rio, Castle Stuart’s philosophy of making golf enjoyable and engaging, but still challenging to players of all abilities, has won it plaudits from some of the world’s leading players.
Our belief is that we can test the best without making the course too punishing for players of lesser abilities and make the whole experience more enjoyable.
This philosophy is increasingly gaining support among course managers, players and those who promote the game and we believe it is the way forward.
Phil Mickelson, who won the Scottish Open a week before his victory in The Open in 2013, said of the course: “It should almost be a prerequisite to play Castle Stuart before you're allowed to design golf courses nowadays.”
Hosting the European Tour’s Scottish Open on four occasions in the past seven years has already inspired people from around the world to experience Castle Stuart for themselves and we are ideally placed to benefit from a fresh influx of golfers.
Inverness Airport is just a five-minute drive from the first tee, and new connections to Inverness from both London and Amsterdam - with KLM adding a second daily flight this year - make the course even more accessible.
In addition to the championship course and its breath-taking backdrop, Castle Stuart’s location and facilities make it extremely attractive to visitors and tour operators.
A ten-minute drive from the city of Inverness and a wealth of good quality bars and restaurants, Castle Stuart also offers on-site accommodation to make a play and stay visit even easier.
On site we have a driving range, pitching area with bunkers and large putting green. This year we have added on-site coaching with former Curtis Cup and LET pro player Gillian Stewart and an accommodation and coaching package is being developed to provide an additional service.
Castle Stuart and the Highlands has much to offer as a gateway for visitors coming to the Home of Golf. The IAGTO convention has been an ideal opportunity to drive home our credentials.