UNPRECEDENTED numbers of golfing visitors have triggered an off-peak tourist boost across the Highlands according to a group providing popular "play and stay" deals to enthusiasts.
Highland Golf Links (HGL) has revealed the game generated more than £500,000 for the north across April, October and November this year, on either side of the main tourist season.
It says this is the sixth successive year there has been a rise in sales of play and stay deals combining golf course aceess with hotel accommodation, with advance sales for next year set to continue the upward trend.
HGL offers rounds at three of Scotland’s most renowned links courses – Castle Stuart, Royal Dornoch Golf Club and The Nairn Golf Club – and accommodation at leading Inverness hotels the Kingsmills and Culloden House as well as the Royal Golf in Dornoch.
During 2017 the number of deals rose by more than three per cent on last year, with bookings for 2018 up 25 per cent.
This means there will be more than 3000 rounds of golf played locally in the off-season months next year.
HGL chairman Fraser Cromarty, who is also chief executive of Nairn Golf Club, said: "The increasing numbers of golfers who are coming to the Highlands during off-peak months is extremely encouraging.
"This area has a lot to offer as a golfing destination and HGL has been extremely successful in attracting visitors through the play and stay packages and the income generated gives everyone a boost at a quieter time of year."
Craig Ewan, general manager at the Kingsmills Hotel, added: "We are seeing more golf business every year and we have a huge number of golfers who book these packages year after year.
"When you are staying away from home and playing some of the best golf courses in the country you want to be staying in a luxury hotel which provides quality service, great bedrooms and fantastic food and beverage to match the golf."
Castle Stuart has hosted the European Tour’s Scottish Open four times in the last seven years while Nairn hosted the Walker Cup in 1999 and the Curtis Cup in 2012.
It staged this year’s Boys Amateur Championship while Royal Dornoch was home to last year’s Northern Open.
All three courses also feature in HGL’s own annual 54-hole Pro-Am, which this year attracted a record entry of 80 teams.
Play and Stay deals are popular with groups and couples from throughout the UK, but also from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and the USA and HGL say a major factor in the increased visits is improved air services connecting the Highlands with Heathrow and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Last year’s addition of daily British Airways flights between Inverness and Heathrow, added to existing flights by other operators to Gatwick and Luton, has increased options for business and leisure passengers.
BA has also announced capacity on the route will increase from seven to ten flights a week from March next year.