The best aspect of a home exchange is that you get to meet new friends. Dorothy and George Horsfield of Glasgow and Crail, Scotland were wonderful hosts to my son Tim (shown with them) and me during our glorious week of golf in the Kingdom of Fife.
If you own a primary or vacation home with golf nearby, you could save yourself a lot of money on your next golf trip by using your house as "bait" for a golfing couple from another part of the world. With the escalating prices for food and fuel, golf trips are becoming more and more difficult to justify financially. That goes double for any trip overseas, especially for Americans who are getting whacked by the current dollar exchange rates. I just finished a golf trip to Scotland that could have cost an extra $2,000 or more if my lodging had not been free.
I swapped our condo in Pawleys Island, SC, for a cottage in Crail, on the eastern coast of Scotland, just nine miles from St. Andrews and about a mile from the wondrous Crail Golfing Society courses, Balcomie and Craighead. The vacation home of George and Dorothy Horsfield of Glasgow was clean, comfortable and within a half hour of a dozen top-flight courses of every variety, from links to parkland. Compared with the $600 per night room at the Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews, which I am sure is quite nice and certainly convenient, we paid nothing for our stay and had access to one more bathroom than the golfers at the hotel and had the opportunity to save even more money by cooking in. Plus, we had access to a beautiful garden. Best of all, we made terrific new friends in the Horsfields, who had stayed at our Pawleys Island condo earlier.
Here's how house exchanges work. You sign up with one of the home exchange companies - we use Homelink International, based in Florida - and register your home for exchange, indicating all the salient details and contact information. Homelink is essentially a listing service; its organizers do not get involved with the actual swapping of homes. You indicate in your listing which parts of the country or world you are interested in visiting; we had included the British Isles on our list and that spurred the Horsfields, who were looking for a Carolina coastal golf vacation, to contact us. After an exchange of a few emails, we all felt comfortable enough to start nailing down dates for the swap.
Most house traders arrange for a simultaneous swap, especially if they are exchanging their primary homes. Both the Horsfield's and we were using our vacation homes, so we did an easier-to-arrange non-simultaneous exchange; they visited Pawleys Island in April for two weeks and we stayed at the Crail cottage last week. The Horsfields have invited us to use our second week credit at any time in the future, and I intend to do so.
When we arrived in Crail, Dorothy and George greeted us at their home with a very nice lunch, showed us around the house and then treated my son Tim and me to a round of golf at their local course, Crail's Balcomie Links. They are also members at a course back in their native Glasgow, less than two hours drive from Crail. George had hoped to use his resident's golfing pass to get us all discounted fees later in the week at Kingsbarns, just 10 minutes from Crail, but all the tee times were taken. Instead, the couple invited us to play at Scotscraig, about 40 minutes from Crail. The outstanding parkland/heathland style course was a refreshing change from all the pure links courses we had played earlier. We had a marvelous time with a charming couple and look forward to seeing them again in the future, on one side of the Atlantic or the other.
This approach to vacation golf may be catching on. Graeme Smith, an Australian, recently founded Senior Golf Exchange, which works similarly to other home exchange programs but targets golfers of a certain age - 50 and over. Senior Golf Exchange adds the option of a hospitality trade as well; that is, you can host another couple at your home in the manner of a bed and breakfast arrangement and then they return the favor at a later date.
For a limited time, and to build up his portfolio of homes, Graeme is offering a "foundation" membership at Senior GoIf Exchange for $99, which includes the first two years free (regularly priced annual subscriptions are another $99). I plan to interview Graeme about his concept and to post an article about Senior Golf Travel here in the coming weeks. It is an intriguing idea whose time, given the current costs to travel, has come.