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Pat Ruddy’s grade-school classroom in the west of Ireland was situated on the ground floor. This was convenient, because on days when his father came to take him out of school, young Patrick had some advance notice: He’d see the old man’s white head bobbing up and down as he walked past the window. Soon there would come a knock on the classroom door. Mr. Ruddy would have a quiet conversation with the teacher, and Pat would be excused for the rest of the day. The reason? It was fine golf weather.
This arrangement went on for a while, until school authorities began to object. So the elder Ruddy took his son out of the public school and enrolled him in a smaller private school run by the boy’s aunt. There, the rules were clear: On days suitable for golf (in Ireland, about 350 days a year are considered suitable for golf) Patrick’s classes would be held in the evening. On truly evil weather days, he’d go to school during normal hours.
Not surprisingly, given this foundation, Ruddy went on to make a career of golf-as a golf writer, designer or redesigner of nearly three dozen Irish courses, publisher of golf books, and, since 1987, owner, designer and president of The European Club. The course has been ranked, depending on the survey, as high as second in the Republic of Ireland and 43rd in the world.
The European Club sprawls across 200 acres of linksland on the Irish Sea, an hour or so South of Dublin. “Clean-shoe golf,” Ruddy calls it, referring to the superb drainage provided by sand that runs, in places, a hundred feet deep. He refers to the course as “my toy” or “my major,” but it would not be too much of an exaggeration to call it his fiefdom. He first saw the land on a helicopter scouting trip in the early 1980s, mortgaged his home to purchase it, and then-with a financial acumen far beyond the ken of most modern developers-set out to build the golf retreat he’d been dreaming of since his school days in County Sligo.
He did not take out enormous bank loans, or solicit help from investors. He didn’t sell house lots to help defray the cost-in fact, one sees no houses while enjoying his world-class playground. Ruddy sketched out the holes over three or four days, and then with Bernadine, his loyal and supportive wife of 45 years (“She’d go to hell with me and think it was great”), and their five children all pitching in, he ran the grading equipment, drove the trucks, seeded the fairways and bargained, face-to-face, with neighbors whose land or cooperation he needed.
The result is a modern masterpiece with roots deep in the game’s past. The holes run back and forth across a beautifully irregular topography of dunes covered in marram grass and gorse, a landscape so perfect for golf that you have the sense, walking it, that it would be a crime against nature to use it for anything else. Except for the whistle of the wind and the plash of the petulant Irish Sea (and, on one hole, the occasional passing car) the course is overlaid with a remarkable quiet. Since Ruddy was so careful with finances, he can now afford to keep the membership low. He neither wants nor needs to advertise. Everyone is welcome and the course attracts players from all over the world, but the $245 in-season green fee, moderately remote location and the owner’s insistence on widely-spaced tee times (generally about 20 minutes apart), mean that, in the club’s 12-month season it hosts only about 11,000 rounds. I played twice on a pleasant May weekend and saw exactly three other groups, total, and those at some distance.
But to use a word like “exclusive” would be to miss the point entirely. With white hair surrounding a bald patch, direct blue eyes and a devilish grin, the 6-foot-2 Ruddy presides over the operation like the most benign king in all of history. In a traditional Irish accent (“fillum” for film; “cam” for calm; “tirty” for 30) he jokes with employees and visitors alike, reeling off one-liners that are followed by a sly grin, a sound like “nnn?” and a tilt of the head that wonders if you were quick enough to catch his humor. He appears to be in his mid-60s, but when asked his age, he replies, “Ninety-two and ten.” He’ll tell you that old men should design golf courses because they’ve had so many years to study the game, and then he’ll add, “But they have to implement their ideas quickly, before they forget them … nnn?”
Millions of people love golf, but in decades of playing and writing about the game, I’ve never met a man or woman who loves golf as much as Ruddy. Nor have I met anyone who takes more pleasure in meeting others who love golf. “Now that’s a true golfer,” he said happily, when told a visitor had lugged his own sticks across the Atlantic just for a couple of rounds.
At first The European Club had no clubhouse, then just wooden cabins, then a small, stone building where golfers could check in. Now there’s a fully stocked golf shop, a good-sized restaurant and, upstairs, living quarters Ruddy uses when not home in Dublin. His elegant second-floor retreat includes a golf library of 6,500 volumes, a signed pair of Johnny Miller’s golf shoes (“One of the gods,” Ruddy calls him. “No one knocked the paint off the flag like Miller”) and rare treasures like an illustrated book of golf poems written by Humphrey Bogart’s mother. The white wooden trim in his second-floor living space is festooned with cherubs holding golf clubs, and an armchair has golf-themed upholstery. In the evenings the onetime scratch player will take a 7-iron down to a favorite spot along the sea and hit balls, one after the next, in a rite that borders on the religious. He’s done that, he says, “thousands of times.”
It’s not like the creation of this little paradise came easy. Pat Ruddy harbored the dream of his own course for something like 30 years and made two costly false starts before he found this piece of land and felt financially comfortable enough to take the risk. Even then, partly because he needed to work elsewhere from time to time to replenish his funds, there were five years between groundbreaking and the first paid round. And, despite his 15 years of design experience, the learning curve was steep. He seeded the first green only to have the wind blow it out to sea during the night. A bit later, before the course was irrigated automatically, Ruddy found himself navel-deep in a pool of water and had to bury his face in it-at 3 a.m., by the lights of a car-to plug a hose into a leaking connection. Not once, but twice, he witnessed one of his sons flip a dump truck on the undulating terrain. Later came a disagreement with a kindly but recalcitrant neighbor, and the temptation-resisted-of selling his creation, during the Irish boom times, for e40 million.
All this was complicated by the fact that Ruddy is, to put it mildly, something of a perfectionist. When he created courses for others, he’d typically spend 230 days a year on site, working from dawn to dusk then lying awake wondering how to make this or that hole more interesting. Given that past, it’s not a surprise to learn that he’s constantly tweaking The European Club, adjusting the deep bunkers-faced with railroad ties-in keeping with his theory that long hitters should have to be accurate, or indulging his subtle sense of humor. After watching Jean Van de Velde’s troubles with the Barry Burn at Carnoustie, Ruddy changed the pond in front of The European Club’s final hole to a U-shape burn with extended perpendicular handles (and kept it shallow enough, I can say from experience, that mis-hit balls can easily be fished out).
When I asked him to take a cart ride and show me the thinking that had gone into his favorite holes, he brought me around the side of the clubhouse and told me to get into his silver Jaguar sedan. He then proceeded to drive past the putting green, in front of the first tee, and very slowly up the middle of the first 12 fairways, hole by hole, pouring out his thoughts as we went. “You see here how the view of this hole is constantly changing as you play it?” “That bunker over there is what I call ‘a frightener.’ ” “I like the look of the grass growing between the sleepers.” “Notice the way the sea comes into view here.” We skirted greens, bumped between gorse-carpeted dunes, became briefly stuck, and ceased our leisurely perusal only because he saw golfers ahead and didn’t want to disturb them with the shocking sight of a car on the fairway.
It gave new meaning to the word “golf tour.”
It was also perfectly Pat Ruddy. It’s his place, and he does exactly what he likes there. “I can go out and hit 30 6-irons onto a green and nobody can bother me about ball marks,” he says, not with any malice, but with the grin of a boy skipping school.
The consideration he showed for the golfers is perfectly Pat Ruddy, as well. Because he doesn’t want guests to be bothered by the sight of his staff of eight greenkeepers, he has never allowed a tee time before 8 a.m., won’t allow the machines within earshot of neighboring property owners before that hour, and has the work done from the 18th hole back to the first, so that if a fast player does have to encounter someone on a mower, he sees and hears the machine just once, going past him in the opposite direction.
Since there’s no lodging at the club, Ruddy arranged for me to stay in the Tinakilly Country House, an Italianate mansion outside the humble town of Wicklow, some 20 minutes away. This turned out to be both a good and a bad thing. Good, because the Tinakilly-built by the sea captain who laid the first transatlantic cable-is a bit like Ruddy’s course: the same blend of elegance, modern convenience, and old, old roots. There are tall-ceilinged parlors where one can enjoy an excellent steak and a glass of Jameson Black Label Reserve, an exceptionally friendly and accommodating staff, good beds in immaculate rooms, gardens for a stroll and massages for the golf-weary.
Here’s the bad part: The last half of the drive from Tinakilly to the club winds along a road exactly wide enough for two bicycles. At least it seemed that way to me, sitting on the right side of the car and creeping along on the wrong side of the road. Yes, there was a sign warning “CAUTION, ACUTE BENDS AHEAD,” and yes it was a scenic drive: sheep in sloping fields, 97 shades of green, tranquil estates, ancient stone walls and signs in Gaelic that read “Go Mall,” which either encourage the visitor to shop or to Go Slow. But, as Pat’s son Patrick told me in the clubhouse, “the way to do it is to keep your left mirror brushing against the foliage at the side of the road. Careful, though, sometimes there’ll be a thin coating of ivy, and beneath the ivy, hard stone.”
Once I’d arrived safely on that first day, Patrick’s father and I sat down to tea and conversation. “A butter-free society wouldn’t be worth having anything to do with,” was the first thing Ruddy said as he slathered some on his scone. By the time he sent me off on the first tee, two hours later, I felt as if I’d been given a warm and loquacious welcome to a golfer’s fantasy kingdom. There wasn’t another soul to be seen on that mild Irish day. Just the wood-faced bunkers that looked like the mouths of so many whales, arranged in a pattern of such brilliant illusion that the golf became a puzzle, a mental challenge as much as a physical one. Tee off with a hybrid and stay this side of the bunker, or try to fly it with a driver? Risk the wind pushing a fade into the dunes, or hit a long iron and have a 200-yard approach? Yes, that’s true of most links courses, but at The European Club it is true on every shot, mercilessly true, magnificently true. The holes are finished off with smooth greens sporting maddeningly subtle breaks. “There’s a mouse buried here and there, yes, true,” Pat admitted afterward.
The second time I played, the wind was, more typically, up in the 15-20 miles-per-hour range, which made Ruddy’s puzzle into a Rubik’s cube of options and obstacles-215-yard 5-irons in one direction, 165-yard drivers in the other.
Ruddy gave special attention to the par 3s, where the superhuman length of the best players matters little. My favorite hole was the downhill sixth, 177 yards from the members’ tees, with a green that slants toward a stream close to the left edge, a mighty bunker front right, the deep grasses and smaller bunkers beyond. As Pat pointed out to me from behind the wheel of his car, part of the optical fun is a conspicuous bush. From the tee, it appears to be just in front of the putting surface: It’s actually 40 yards shy.
Here and there throughout the round, one comes upon other traces of Ruddy’s mischievous humor. A sign at the entrance says, “We prefer traditional steel spikes for safety but soft spikes are allowed.” The aforementioned U-shaped burn at 18 is 10 yards more forgiving to a shot flying toward mid-green; there’s an Irish cursing stone on No. 10, where you can doom your enemies. In another unique touch, there are two extra holes, neat par 3s that play to elevated greens and are set in such a way that, if you choose to enjoy them, they don’t interfere with the course routing. Twenty holes for the price of 18, and why? Because Pat Ruddy loves golf, that’s why.
The best joke of all is the 127-yard-long green on the sweeping, oceanside 12th. On the day Tiger Woods played here, in preparation for the 2002 British Open, he finished the hole and then challenged his playing partners-Mark O’Meara, David Duval and Scott McCarron-to a putting contest, dropping balls as far from the pin as possible and seeing who could lag it up the closest. “Now there’s a man I can relate to,” Ruddy thought, because it was the kind of thing a golf-loving kid might do. Woods holds the course record from that day, a 67, but perhaps equally impressive was the 70 Rory McIlroy-barely 17 at the time-shot in qualifying on his way to winning the Irish Men’s Amateur match play in 2006.
I loved that 12th hole. Played from elevated tees, it sweeps down in a gentle leftward curl with the whitecapped Irish Sea against its right flank. In certain winds you have to start the drive out over the water in order to have it find fairway. There are bunkers clustered just left of the narrow landing area, then more bunkers set in zigzag fashion right up to the front of the massive putting surface. The par-4 seventh has been chosen as one of the 100 best holes in the world, but No. 12 should have a place on that list, as well. It’s here that the owner sneaks off to late in the day to hit iron shots and muse. If you look east from his favorite spot, you can imagine Liverpool, 100 miles across the sea, the place where the British Open will be played this year. In 2019 or so, the Open will travel to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the second time, and in 2007 Padraig Harrington used The European Club to prepare for his Open victory at Carnoustie, so it’s not impossible to picture the great tournament crossing the Irish Sea again, champions testing their skill against Ruddy’s sometimes mirthful, sometimes cruel design. When I finished my first round, I found him on the putting green-deep into the late Irish twilight-still practicing. “And I thought you were a kind man,” I joked.
He looked up, grinned, and answered, “No, I’m a miserable bastard.”
“He’s a genius,” said a member of The Island GC in Dublin, a great old links with a fine, if less stunning, layout. “He’s so modest,” opined a worker at the Tinakilly. Both terms fit. It’s one thing to find and finance the land, design and build your own links. It’s something else entirely to see your creation ranked in the world’s top 100, next to courses that have been around for centuries.
More than many nations on earth, Ireland has seen its tough times. The cruelties of British occupation, the famine, the seemingly endless troubles up north. More recently, a bank collapse that took all the fierceness out of the Celtic Tiger and made for empty buildings in the capital, unemployment at 12 percent and an Irish diaspora that sucks hometown youth overseas simply to find decent work.
But there is something in the Celtic spirit that accepts these trials with a stoic good humor and affability. On a Sunday night in Dublin, O’Donaghue’s Pub was packed with young people sipping Guinness and listening to a two-man band singing the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” The vibe was pure Irish-loud, friendly, touched around the edges with an understanding of sorrow.
Wandering the streets there, listening to radio reports of Gerry Adams’ arrest, of a gangland hit in South Dublin, hearing about a string of great old courses near Malahide that have given up on requiring any initiation fee and are just hoping to hang on, I wondered if Pat Ruddy was trying to bring a bit of sunshine to the Emerald Isle with his “toy.” A place to go once in a while and have a few hours of primeval peace. A shrine to true links golf and the sometimes masochistic pleasure it can bring a soul.
“The light just goes on,” he told me in our last conversation, “and you realize what you’re supposed to be doing with your life.”
Asked when that light went on for him, he launched into a tale of trying to get a golf ball airborne for the first time on his gravelly yard back in Sligo when he was 6. He tried and tried, and finally managed it. Unfortunately, he managed it so well that the ball smashed through the kitchen window, where his mother was preparing supper. I asked if she was angry, and he said, “No, she was very much in praise of my getting it airborne … nnn?”
There is about this man a lovable eccentricity. For all the scruffy seaside perfection of The European Club, there’s something there that sings a tune of pure, unselfconscious love of golf and casts a glance back over its shoulder to that boy in County Sligo, clubs strapped to the frame of his bicycle, pedaling hard to get in a last round before darkness falls.
you can click here to see more about my roadless traveled.
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When the batch of 1983 comprising 18 starry-eyed designers graduated from the Premlila Vithaldas Polytechnic, SNDT University Mumbai; little did the faculty realise that one of the students would be a name that would make waves in the fashion industry in India. Anita Dongre nee Savlani shows the way for new fashion designers making it on your own and proving true the old saying: Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Post graduation Anita Dongre moved into the commercial fashion circuit designing highfashion garments. Orders on her graduation collection kept her busy thereafter. Two years later, in 1985, Dongre and her sister (also a graduate from the same college) started the MAS label (Meena Anita Savlani) and the duo opened their first store in Bandra, Mumbai.
With Jaipur as her birth place, Dongre’s inspiration comes mostly from her home state. Being a woman designer has been helpful too, “Because I want to wear something affordable every day, so I have created different labels for women which they can afford to wear. My collections are a personal projection of me. I love the fact that I am a woman and in the fashion business my understanding is so much more [because of that]. I can’t imagine being a man and in this business!”
“I got disillusioned as a lot of stores were ripping off my label and selling it under their name My personal style was evolving and changing. I wanted to do simpler clothes but the stores wanted more embroidery and I was moving away from it.”
Starting a label in the 1980s was not easy. Fashion as an industry was not organised as it is today. And being newcomers, the two designers did all the running around for everything right from designing, sourcing fabrics, getting the outfit from the master and the artisans and finally selling it to the client themselves. But Dongre looks back at the experience as vital learning. “I think the whole process has taught me things from the GRASSROOT level, which is helping me a great deal today. The retail business in the 1980s was run by familyrun department stores, Roopam, Sheetal and Benzer. There was no high-fashion store like Ensemble but little boutiques in Bandra with names like Saks.”
Lack of finance and no family
experience in the business of fashion was another stumbling block. Undaunted, they started everything from scratch and built it gradually. As in all sectors, the best learning is from your own mistakes. The key lies in sustainability and the ability to grow. And that is what this young designer managed to do to give her the reputation she enjoys today. Early years
The biggest challenge for any brand is to gain visibility. Dongre decided to go through the Clothing Manufacturer’s Association of India Garment fairs in the 1980s where brands from all over India participated. Soon she realised that though doing that was great fun, it became frustrating later on. Being the only fashion designer-led company at the time, their styles were different from the norm. Moreover, as newcomers, survival in the industry was the greater need. There were a few compromises along the way. “I got disillusioned as a lot of stores were ripping off my label and selling it under their name. Then Sheetal and Benzer who were spending crores of rupees on their ad campaigns wanted their labels on my clothes,” recalls Dongre.
Not in a position to call the shots the designer played the waiting game. Payments from retailers were late and at the end of the season there were returns. Dongre geared up to deliver during the good season when retailers sat on her head demanding collections. Catering to their needs, Dongre made an unpalatable discovery. She says, “I was designing and creating but over the years felt the focus was too much on embroidery at that time. My personal style was evolving and changing. I wanted to do simpler clothes but the stores wanted more embroidery and I was moving away from it.”
“But couldn’t imagine creating an Indian label that is well priced That’s how the GLOBAL DESI brand was born. It’s amazing but the GLOBAL DESI label has beaten AND sales everywhere.”
Sitting in her 4,000-sq. ft. flagship store in Bandra that was opened in December 2010 which stocks all her different labels for her very wide customer profile, Anita Dongre, Creative Director, AND Designs India Ltd, says that she has come a long way. Reminiscing about her journey and how her stable of brands grew in the 27 years that she has been in the business, Dongre acknowledges the moment she decided to take charge and change tactics. Important clients like Hema Malini coaxed her to get her labels under one roof to facilitate shopping for mothers and daughters. “Twelve years ago I created a whole Western line of clothes which I would like to wear. I let MAS continue and thought of a new label AND. But in India, everything had to sell with embroidery at that time. I made 40 pieces under AND and took them to the stores like Sheetal, who thought it would not sell. It was very international so they didn’t want it,” says Dongre. She was convinced about the need for such an outlet.
This led to the birth of the brand AND. “My first AND store came from the frustration that they didn’t want to buy a line that I loved,” reveals Dongre. The opening of the first store at Crossroads the first mall, was the beginning and there was no looking back. The tiny 200- sq. ft. store was a rage doing amazing business. AND has grown as a label and today boasts 26 company-run stores and 100 shop-in-shop sections in stores such as Pantaloon, Central, Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, et cetera.
“My first AND store came from the frustration that they didn’t want to buy a line that I loved.”
AND the difference
Dongre’s creativity was now in full bloom. Five years ago, she wanted to have her personal signature label and longed to do high-end clothing and so ANITA DONGRE IINTERPRET was started. AND appeals to the 18-38-year women while IINTERPRET is for the older woman and is a more elegant, simpler, classic line with good-quality fabrics and in small quantities within a price band of ` 4,000, while AND retails at a lower price range. “AND is a high-street brand and it is price restrictive, so one cannot do a pure silk garment.
A causal chat with Kishore Biyani, the genius behind Pantaloon Retail and Big Bazaar chains, set Dongre on another track – expanding the horizon. Biyani pointed out the need for an Indian highstreet brand. The vacuum in the smaller cities in India for fashion apparel was an untapped territory. Being traditional in outlook the greater need was for Indianwear. Biyani advised Dongre to bring out a range to fill that gap, but price it well and have a pan – India presence. Recognising sound advice and that too from a veteran from the industry set Dongre’s brain ticking. “But couldn’t imagine creating an Indian label that is well priced. What made me start probably was listening to Bollywood remixes. That’s how the GLOBAL DESI brand was born. It’s amazing but the GLOBAL DESI label has beaten AND sales everywhere.”
Apart from opening her own stores, Dongre decided to go the franchise path. The AND and GLOBAL DESI stores at Express Avenue Mall at Chennai operate on a franchise model. The success of the new ventures opened more avenues. GRASSROOT was born from the desire to support a greener world. Apart from the decision to use organic cotton, Dongre adopted another strategy change. GRASSROOT truly reflects the thought behind it – going to the GRASSROOT . “I use crafts from villages for embroidery. I work with an NGO [supported] farm in Andhra Pradesh. I have also tied up with Shop for Change which certifies the garments made from cotton which is produced by farmers from the Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company,” states Dongre who was one of the first designers to bring organic collections onto the ramp at fashion weeks.
Handling the empire
Dongre’s signature labels are ANITA DONGRE – TIMELESS, ANITA DONGRE – IINTERPRET AND GRASSROOT along with her two most popular high-street fashion brands AND and GLOBAL DESI. For the signature label it is a two seasons’ cycle namely Spring Summer and Autumn Winter. IINTERPRET is what the urban Indian women relate to with long tunic, blouses, salwar kameezes; while GLOBAL DESI is kurtas, funky Indian prints and Anita Dongre Couture is now converted to ANITA DONGRE TIMELESS. The MAS label has been discontinued now. The backend production is taken care of by her designers and the two facilities that fulfill the store orders.
The stores don’t buy and have no role to play, including the shop-in-shops. Some conservative buying is tweaked for a particular region but no collections are customised for different parts of India. “It is a company policy that we have similar merchandise in all our store locations, though we have to make minor additions or deletions. AND corporatewear is a hot selling item, and it is believed that almost every second urban, working woman shops at AND for her workwear attire.”
Twice a year, Dongre does photo shoots for the collection but has not yet had an ad campaign. These photos are sent to the media and stores where the clothes are sold. Designs are created daily and collections are planned months in advance with special fabrics woven and designed. Dongre still has not ventured into the hard core bridal market where garments are much steeper but may consider it in 2011.
While Dongre declines from revealing the brand’s turnover, she admits it is now phenomenal from the paltry `20,000 with which she started her designing business. Having been in the fashion world for over two decades Dongre sees a great future for the industry in the coming years. “It’s definitely getting more organised and methodical. It’s ever growing. More and more women are effortlessly balancing the designer labels with high-street brands to achieve their personal style mantra – especially the gen next women. For me that’s what fashion is all about; it should bring out one’s own individual style.”
The headline brightened my mood: “BA returns to commissions for U.K. agents.”I knew that some major airline would see the light one of these days, reverse its course and start paying commissions again.
And here was one of my favorites, good old British Airways, taking the lead. Wrong.
BA is returning to a commission-based policy in Britain, all right, but they’re paying 1%, effective Dec. 1.
One percent. Give me a break.
Two years ago, BA stopped paying 7% commissions and announced what it euphemistically called a “fresh approach” to agency compensation. The new plan was based on fees, calculated according to the type of fare and the length of a flight. The program would pay from $3.93 to $31.42 for a booking. As paltry as these sums were, they actually represented a better deal than the 1% about to be offered.
As you would expect, British agents are outraged. The word they are using to describe the plan is “derisory.” That sent me to my Funk & Wagnalls. “Derisory” turns out to be a Briticism that means “laughably small.” Leave it to the Brits to pick the right word. Laughably small, that’s what the 1% offer is.
BA says the rate reflects the tough times it is having in attempting to compete with low-cost carriers. Maybe so. But 1% also is a slap in the face to thousands of agencies that have supported the carrier for years.
The 1% offer reminds me of an incident some years ago. They were early days in my career, when I was engaged in a struggle to make ends meet. I had an important appointment one morning in Manhattan.
I rarely used taxis in those days, preferring the lower-cost alternatives of walking or using the subway. But it was raining hard, so I decided to hail one.
When we reached the address I’d given the driver, I paid the fare and tacked on what I thought was a reasonable tip. Truth be told, it was a pittance but it was all I could afford. The driver took the few additional cents I had offered and threw them back at me. “You need this more than I do, Mister,” he said.
British travel agents are threatening to show their anger by “switchselling,” another Briticism that means selling away from a supplier. I don’t know if it’s realistic for them to do business without booking a carrier that has such a far-flung system. Probably not. But no one could blame them if they tried.
One percent may be laughingly small, but British agents aren’t amused. In a way, the offer is worse than nothing. It’s not only insufficient, it’s insulting.
IRISH Rail is charging pensioners as much as [euro]8 one way to book tickets online under the so-called ‘free’ travel scheme.
The booking, transaction and credit card charges that make up the [euro]8 fee were lambasted by critics last night, who demanded the system be stopped immediately. Age Action claimed the move amounted to discrimination, while Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary said it represented ‘the thin end of the wedge’ when it comes to free travel for OAPs.
Irish Rail defended the system, saying that issuing free passes online would be unworkable if there were no fees.Social Protection Minister Joan Burton – whose department is in charge of administering free travel – said the charges were a matter for Irish Rail. Anyone with a free travel pass wishing to reserve a seat online is charged [euro]5 for the service.
But this is not the end of the charges, as two more fees – [euro]2 for the transaction and [euro]1 for credit card payments – are added on.
Gerry Scully, of elderly charity Age Action, branded the charges ‘outrageous’. He said: ‘This amounts to discrimination because it is definitely disadvantaging people with free travel passes.
‘It is actually subverting the free travel scheme and Age Action is appalled that this is occurring.
‘It is ridiculous and there is no justification for them doing this.
‘We are calling for this system of charges to be stopped and stopped immediately.’ Fianna Fail’s Mr Calleary discovered the ‘sneaky’ charges after he submitted a parliamentary question he submitted to Minister Joan Burton.
Last night, he said that free travel was coming under attack, with a [euro]5 charge for longer journeys previously considered in a bid to cut the scheme’s [euro]77million cost.
‘It’s disgraceful,’ he said. ‘Irish Rail is a State-funded company and the Government has a responsibility to ensure it acts in the best interests of its customers and all taxpayers.
‘We have already seen this Government threaten the very future of the Free Travel Scheme as we know it ahead of the last budget.’ ‘We need to know if the sneaky charges for free travel customers at Irish Rail is just the thin end of the wedge,’ the Mayo TD said.
Free travel is a State-sponsored scheme which aims to tackle social isolation among those aged 66 and over, and people with disabilities.
Deputy Calleary said it was an ‘essential lifeline’ which gives people the opportunity to ‘move freely from A to B without the burden of cost’. ‘Hidden charges fly in the face of that very concept,’ he said, as he called on Irish Rail, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Burton to explain how the fees could be justified.
‘They must outline what the initial [euro]5 charge is for, where it is going and whether or not it and the subsequent two charges are sanctioned by the Government,’ he said.
But defending the system, Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said: ‘We have always charged to reserve seats since we introduced internet booking some years ago. We have to issue a charge because the system would be unworkable if there were a zero charge.
‘But in terms of transaction and credit card fees, new consumer legislation on the way means that they will be phased out over this summer.’ Mr Kenny continued: ‘It is not just targeted at people who have free travel, it’s for all those who wish to pre-book.’
There were 36.7million journeys on Irish Rail last year, 4.5million of which were taken by passengers with free travel passes. While Irish Rail got [euro]14.6million for providing these services, it pointed out last night that the payments had been frozen for the past number of years. As a result, they ‘have been carrying up to 600,000 extra passengers per annum at no extra cost’.
Last night Ms Burton said: ‘It is a matter for Irish Rail to consider the provision of a free reservation service.’ There has been speculation in the run-up to the last two budgets that free travel could be the next benefit to be targeted. And it was reported that the Cabinet considered imposing limited fares for peak hour and InterCity train journeys in a bid to cut costs.
It was also expected there would be a clampdown on the companion pass – which covers travel for a person accompanying a pensioner or a person with a disability.
Ms Burton has managed to stand firm over the past two years against efforts to hit the travel pass and has retained the budget at [euro]77million.
Whether she can hold out for a third year is not yet clear.
WHERE CAN YOU TRAVEL FOR FREE?
FREE travel on public transport and a limited number of private operators often provides a precious link with the outside world to many isolated elderly people.
The Free Travel scheme is currently available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over, to carers, and to customers aged under 66 who are in receipt of certain disability payments.
The scheme permits customers to travel for free on all CIE public transport services – Irish Rail, Dart, Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus – Luas and a range of services offered by almost 90 private operators in various parts of the country. Last night a spokesman for Minister Burton said despite pressures on overall expenditure, the Department spent [euro]77million on the scheme in 2013 ‘in light of its crucial importance to recipients’.
You may also travel free on certain cross-border services between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and free flights are covered for some islanders too.
If you are living on the Aran Islands, you may get up t Eo 12 single (or six return) air trips each year between the islands and the mainland. People who live on Tory Island (Co. Donegal) are entitled to eight (or four return) free journeys on the seasonal helicopter operating between the island and the mainland.
If you want travel to England and these are Top 4 Classic British Hotels that You Should Know .
If you are fond of traveling from one place to another, then there’s a need for you to know the best classic British hotels in your place. For example, if you want to spend your vacation in Britain, then there are some places and hotels where you can stay while you are in vacation. You should also know some specific hotels that offer the best and exceptional services for their customers and guests. If you consider the best hotels that offer remarkable services as well, then you can have the privilege to experience luxury and elegance at its finest.
- The Ritz – This hotel already started to open in 1906. Because of their notable guests – Charlie Chaplin, Paul Getty and some hosts of European monarchs, this hotel claims itself as the “Best hotel in the world”. This hotel is located next to the Green Park in Piccadilly. Because of this great and perfect location, most of the guests can enjoy the stroll in the magnificent surroundings of Palm Court, especially in the afternoon.
- Cliveden House – This is one of the famous avenues for playing a vital role in Profumo affair of 1960s.Cliveden House is really a perfect place for you, especially if you are looking for a privacy setup. In fact, there is also a spring cottage which is located in grounds. All the rooms in this place are en-suite and individually decorated.
- Royal Crescent Hotel – This hotel occupies two central buildings of “The Crescent” and it is completed in the year 1775. If you booked in this hotel, you can have the privilege to experience the relaxation and comfort that you want to feel. Dinner and breakfast will be served during your stay. Approximately, the cost that you will spend, including beds and hotel accommodation, ranges from $500 to $1,400. Each room in this hotel has en-suite bathroom and a perfect ambience for you to relax.
- Burgh Island Hotel – This hotel is located within the island, Southwest country of Devon. In this hotel, you can see tennis courts, helicopter landing pad and seawater swimming pool. You can choose to spend in this hotel if you want to have a great experience.
When searching for the best hotels through online, you may also explore some serger reviews would help you in choosing the best serger for your projects. So, make use of your internet at home, especially when searching for some pieces of information about a specific subject.
Luxury British hotels are renowned for their oh-so-attentive service, discretion when it comes to hosting super-stars from statesmen to musicians and actors, and often a history that can’t be matched.
With so many hotels at the top end, the final choice often comes down to either location or key differentiators–something visitors simply can’t find at any other property. The top-end Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh features both, with a central position between Old Town and New Town, and a “tartan butler” on staff who can trace a guest’s genealogy–and even arrange for a kiltmaker to create a kilt of their family clan.
In London, the May Fair Hotel is a landmark in the “Luxury Quarter,” just moments from London’s chicest shopping on New Bond Street, Regent Street, and Oxford Street and also features one of the few exclusive casinos accessible to visitors. “Those new to London really appreciate introductions,” says Declan Lott, executive vice president of sales for the Edwardian Group, of which the May Fair is a part. “The concierge can make personal introductions for them at the casino, at the exclusive shops on Bond Street or at a high-end restaurant. It helps visitors feel a part of the real London.”
The Edwardian Group owns several other properties throughout London, ranging from boutigue to large-scale luxury, including the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Mercer Street Hotel, in a hip Covent Garden location perfectly placed for London theater and minutes from the Royal Opera House.
If history is part of the appeal, England’s oldest purpose-built hotel, the wisteria-covered Old Bell Hotel next to the magnificent Malmesbury Abbey in the Cotswolds dates to 1220. And originally owned by the kings of Scotland, Traquair Castle, with three luxury bedrooms for guests, is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland.
And yet, there’s always something new too. For those who like the bragging rights of being first, guide them to the contemporary Shangri-La, poised to be the tallest hotel in Western Europe–with breathtaking views–when it opens on levels 34 to 52 of London’s 72-story glass-clad Shard in 2014. The boutique Beaumont Hotel is also set to open in 2014, in an Art Deco building in London’s Mayfair with an interior reminiscent of 1920s Manhattan; one highlight is the Antony Gormley inhabitable sculpture “Room.”
For a more traditional resort experience, top-end resorts dot the countryside complete with the championship golf and luxe spas well-heeled travelers love. Check out “Golf Greats” on page 26 for more information about these resorts.
To the manor born
Castles, country manors, sweet cottages on manor grounds … visitors can sample their way through the best of the high life.
In Berkshire, England, visitors join the likes of Churchill and Chaplin, Queen Victoria, and the Astors for a country retreat at Cliveden House amid 400 acres of National Trust gardens; the house’s flotilla of vintage launches are available for cruising the Thames or making a grand entrance at the Henley Royal Regatta. Speaking of grand entrances, guests can arrive in style via seaplane at Cameron House on Loch Lomond, outside of Glasgow.
From lords and ladies to knights and fair maidens–historic castles are a part of any traveler’s sightseeing in Britain. But to take it to the next level, luxury travelers can step back in time and spend the night, or many nights, in castles throughout Britain.
The romantic Ruthin Castle is just one of the many options in Wales, known as “Land of Castles.” Its heritage stretches back more than 700 years, with notable owners including King Edward I, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I. In addition to standard luxury rooms, several suites are available–including the grand Prince of Wales Suite, occupying the whole floor of a tower. The castle’s Moat Spa rests in the rustic woodland grounds of the ancient castle’s moat, with indoor and outdoor spaces.
A favorite of Henry VIII (and other royals), London’s Hampton Court Palace, overlooking the Thames, features two self-catering cottages. Scotland’s Balmoral Castle, still a holiday retreat of choice for the royal family, offers up five comfortable but basic self-catering cottages (not available during royal visits).
If pop royalty is more a visitor’s cup of tea, Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands was the choice for Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie, while Brad and Angelina recently chose to make the 16th-century Carnell Estates their home away from home in Ayrshire, Scotland.Travel agents can contact Exclusive Castle Rentals for those and other castles that can be rented out in their entirety (exclusivecastlerentals.com); in London, Cheval Residences features exclusive luxury apartments for vacation rentals (chevalresidences.com).
Caption: Skibo Castle Sutherland, Scotland
Caption: The Vineyard Berkshire, England
Cottage at Stancombe Manor Devon, England
Caption: ME London London
Caption: Llangoed Hall Powys, Wales
Caption: Lygon Arms Worcestershire, England
Caption: Stow-on-the-Wold Gloucestershire, England
LUXURY IS GREAT BRITAIN
* Tap into unique differentiators in accommodations to lift a trip to the next level
* Timing can be everything–some top accommodations, such as royal palaces, are only available at certain times
* To experience life like a lord and lady, recommend castle, manor house, or luxury flat rentals
Luxury accommodations don’t always mean traditional. If your clients are looking for something truly unusual, there’s plenty to choose from. How about the 5-star Treehouse (yes, it really is a treehouse) near the Exmoor National Park in southwest England? Or the guirky West Usk Lighthouse in Newport, Wales, where visitors climb a circular stone staircase to get to the wedge-shaped rooms? At Blue Reef Cottages, in Scotland’s Hebrides, turf-roofed stone cottages with glass fronts are designed after Neolithic housing–but with all the luxuries of home.
And then there’s glamping throughout the countryside: Consider the handcrafted yurts overlooking the beach at the upscale Priory Bay Hotel on England’s Isle of Wight or “hot tub safari glamping” in luxurious fully appointed canvas tents styled after African safari accommodations at Pentre Mawr country house in Wales’ Denbigh (both also feature more traditional luxury guest rooms and cottages).
Caption: Canvas Lodge at Petre Mawr Denbigh, Wales