McGinley's club-hire idea plane brilliant
PAUL McGINLEY is most famous for sinking the putt which beat the United States at the Belfry; now he's about to strike a blow for all golfers currently held to ransom by money-grabbing airlines. Together with college chum and fellow Dubliner Tony Judge, McGinley has discovered an innovative way around the exorbitant fees airlines charge to ferry golf clubs to holiday destinations.
Within the next few weeks, McGinley and Judge will launch an international rental business which will give golfers the opportunity to book the clubs of their choice over the internet and collect them in the arrivals hall at their destination airport.
The service will be similar to that offered by car-hire companies, only the customer, for a price of €35 per week, will choose precisely which mix of woods, irons and putter he or she desires from any of the leading manufacturers.
Given his contacts in golf, McGinley forged a deal with the manufacturers, who are keen for players to try out their latest models, while Judge has struck an exclusive five-year deal to operate at five international airports: Dublin, Malaga, Faro, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
There are more in the offing, according to McGinley, who says: "The idea is to grow it globally and we are already in discussions with Orlando."
Ryanair -- who else? -- were first to introduce specific fees for carrying golf clubs in the spring of 2003, but Aer Lingus soon followed suit along with many other major carriers in Europe and the United States. It has become commonplace in the industry to charge for any baggage one places in an aircraft's hold, yet the prices levied on sports equipment defy all logic.
For example, yesterday I applied on-line for a flight with Ryanair from Dublin to Faro on Thursday April 22, returning on April 29. It was one of those 'no taxes' deals which would have required me to pay the airline the princely sum of €69.58, including a €10 on-line check-in fee, to ferry my corpulent, 200 pounds-plus frame from Dublin to the Algarve and back.
Yet the asking price for bringing my clubs -- which weigh less than 25 pounds including the bag, balls and shoes -- was €80, or €40 each-way. Outrageously, I'd be expected to pay €10.42 more to ferry an item which is at least one eighth of my body weight. Of course, having lugged my golf clubs all the way into the airport, who's to say they'd arrive in Faro undamaged, if they did get there at all?
I'll never forget my first brush with this phenomenon in April 2003 when checking in for an overnight return trip to Gatwick. I'd no check-in luggage apart from a pencil-bag of golf clubs which, all told, weighed just 13 pounds -- well below the limit for hold baggage, which went free at that time.
Directed to the Ryanair desk in the departures hall at Dublin airport to pay (if I recall correctly) a €25 each-way fee, I was told to "take it or leave it" when I tried to point out how unfair I considered this new policy to be. Left with Hobson's choice, I stumped up the extra cash, so you can imagine my anger when I arrived in Gatwick and was told by an official in the baggage hall: "Your golf bag has gone to Prestwick, not Gatwick."
There was no refund of the fee either for the outward or return leg of my journey. Neither was there any compensation for the cost of hiring a horrible old set of clubs at Royal St Georges, where I was to play in an Open Championship media day that afternoon.
Of course, back in 2003, with the Ryder Cup at the K Club still three years away, our government still pretended to be serious about promoting Ireland as a golf destination, so I contacted Failte Ireland, expecting them to rise up in fury against this new surcharge being placed on golfers visiting our shores.
In fairness, they were so annoyed they revealed they had written "a strongly worded letter" to Ryanair on the matter. That certainly did the trick; within weeks, Aer Lingus also started putting the gun to the golfer's head.
Though this plague on the travelling golfer spread internationally with the efficacy of swine flu, at least it has given a gilt-edged business opportunity to two shrewd operators -- McGinley and Judge.
McGinley returned to the European Tour arena in last week's King Hassan II Open in Morocco after nearly five months recovering from his sixth operation on is left knee early last November and, clearly, the Dubliner made good use of his free time.
The rental network is just one of two new businesses McGinley is establishing -- the other is an elite international golf club membership scheme. He's also accepted a course-design project at Bulgaria's Sofia Golf Club.
McGinley missed the cut in Rabat, largely because he struggled for feel on the greens there. Yet with no pain in his left knee and after spending the weekend at Royal Golf Club Dar Es Salam working on his putting, he's hopeful of making it through all 72 holes in this week's Open de Andalucia in Malaga.