Golf Travel Tips - Matching Golf Destinations to Your Golf Personality

Julie L. Moran

By Julie L. Moran

There is a literal golfer's smorgasbord out there, consisting of hundreds of golf courses you can play - including many of the world's finest layouts. While this translates into dozens of great golf destinations to choose from, choosing the right one for your "golf personality," and for that of your companions, is essential. It's not a bad idea to check out golf travel magazines, such as Golf & Travel, which profiles many of the world's greatest golf destinations, and books, such as Golf Digest's "Places to Play," which provides ratings and somewhat detailed descriptions of U.S. courses, as a solid starting point.

However, you would be wise to give some thought beyond which courses and destinations are highly recommended by others, as this will help you design a golf vacation that will meet your (and your companions') travel needs and expectations. Remember, one man's (or woman's) golf nirvana may be another's travel disaster. Vacations are special occasions, moments that add sweetness to the spice of life, so choose carefully where you'll spend your (or your group's) hard earned time and money.

One quick note about golf groups: there are those people out there (and they often do not know who they are) who, no matter how much you have tried to accommodate everyone's desires and personalities, will complain about everything, from the tee times to the food. My advice: leave them off the list, if possible - or, if that's not possible, let them choose their own accommodations, tee times, etc.... You can't please everybody, but complainers in the bunch can make everyone miserable, even in an otherwise golfer's paradise.

Challenged, but not Overwhelmed

Perhaps the most basic consideration when choosing destinations and courses is the difficulty level of the courses you're considering. Generally speaking, many fine golf destinations have a variety of courses available, which will allow golfers of various abilities to enjoy themselves, so this factor may impact more which courses you choose rather than which destination you decide upon.

Some examples in the U.S. (though a far cry from a complete list) of places with courses to suit every playing level include Pinehurst, NC (Pinehurst has seven courses alone, and there are many others in the vicinity, as well); Myrtle Beach, SC (which boasts more than one hundred courses to choose from); Daytona Beach, FL; Jacksonville and Amelia Island, FL; Williamsburg, VA; and on the west coast, Phoenix, AZ; Pebble Beach, CA, and Palm Springs, CA.

If these destinations prove otherwise fine choices for your party's needs, the next step is to carefully select which courses to play, since few things can spoil a round like a course that's way over a player's head. In Kiawah, SC, for example, the famed Ocean Course, considered one of top 100 in the US, while undeniably a masterpiece laid out in a breathtaking ocean setting, is a constant challenge against the wind, not to mention hazards, and thus, will likely prove a frustrating experience for higher handicap players. The nearby Osprey course, also at Kiawah Island Resort, is lovely, challenging, and more suitable for a variety of levels of skill, although it lacks some of the notoriety and is a different type of scenery than the Ocean Course. Another example is Pete Dye's PGA West Course, in which the sand traps, which on some holes begin behind the tees, seem endless, and after a few holes, even the most stable-minded of people can begin to suspect that Dye put them there just to make their lives a living hell.

In certain popular European destinations, such as Ireland, which offers beautiful ocean courses like Ballybunion, Waterville and Lahinch, and in Scotland at the famed St. Andrews, Troon, and Carnoustie courses, the wind can be such a constant factor that play for the less skilled player, or those unused to such conditions, can become an exercise in frustration that not even a well-deserved massage back at the hotel can undo.

While speaking of U.K. golf destinations, another factor to consider when traveling abroad to partake of the famous and historic courses of Scotland, Ireland and England are certain restrictions and requirements some of these courses impose upon visitors. Some highly sought-after courses (e.g., Carnoustie and St. Andrews in Scotland) require a certain handicap (often low, such as no higher than 12 or 15), and a letter of introduction from your home course, in order to be permitted to play. Be sure to check if the courses you wish to play have any such restrictions. The reason for such restrictions is one of practicality, as these courses mentioned attract players from all over the world, and therefore, keeping players moving is a necessity. For this same reason, rounds may be required to be completed within certain time limits (e.g., three and a half hours or less).

Slowing down the course will make you very unpopular, not to mention, the subject of verbal harassment and undisguised disdain. Additionally, you must walk on these courses - there are no carts. For some, this would be fine, while for others, it could pose a problem. In short, these are courses best booked for lower handicap players and/or groups in reasonable health, not only for the players' own enjoyment, but for the simple fact that they may be unable to play courses they have traveled so far to play.

Weather, Seasons, and Related Concerns

On the flip side, if you or your group eats, sleeps and plays golf while traveling, assuming the handicap and letter of introduction requirements do not pose a problem, traveling to the U.K. during the summer months can be a golfer's dream, since the sun in that part of the world does not set until as late as 10 or 11 p.m. and rises again by 4 or 5 a.m. This allows for 36 holes a day, with daylight to spare for other activities.

Of course, this brings us to the potential drawback of the U.K.'s climate: the summer months can bring unpredictable cold and heat, with rain and wind virtually constant. If you are traveling with golfers who require beautiful weather, meaning calm, sunny days, to enjoy their round, the U.K. is clearly not a good choice at any time of the year; however, neither, then, are a variety of U.S. destinations you might otherwise be considering.

Weather is an especially important factor if, again, your group consists of die-hard golfers traveling for virtually no other reason. You want to book a place with: a) the right climate for this predictability, and b) at the right time of year, since even destinations with fairly predictable weather (such as Palm Springs, Phoenix or several destinations in Florida) have "off" seasons. The desert locations of the southwestern U.S. have their hot seasons and windy seasons; Florida, its rainy and hurricane seasons. Snow and rain are often seasonal in places, as are extremely hot temperatures. Take not only people's playing preferences, but their overall age or health, into consideration.

When attempting to check weather and seasons, many good travel guides, weather and travel websites, and travel books or Chambers of Commerce or Tourist Bureau publications can provide you with solid, accurate information. While no one can accurately predict the weather all the time (hence, the author's unfortunate vacation to Maui, in which "unseasonable" rain lasted five out of six days, or a tee time in early November in Pinehurst a few years back, which was abruptly canceled due to a freak snowstorm), it's essential to do some quick "homework" in this area to avoid unnecessary disappointment.

Off Season for a Reason

Many golf travelers like to save money by traveling off-season. This is a great idea, provided they've thought about the drawbacks as they pertain to them. Some golfers don't mind playing in the rain, heat, or the wind, and their or their companions' age or health is not a factor. For example, prices are down sharply in Florida and Palm Springs during the summer months - for those who can stand the heat (and in the case of Florida, the humidity).

Similarly, while courses in the Carolinas are open throughout the fall, and even into the winter, and these off-peak times offer some very attractive rates, a storm can shut down the course, leaving you with little to do in a golf mecca off-season. You may also get caught in a cold spell, which can spell disaster for golfers who don't enjoy playing under those conditions. Even the lovely beaches of, say, Hilton Head Island or Virginia Beach are too cold for many activities out of season. You may be better off hedging your bets with things to do in case the weather doesn't cooperate, or the course is shut down for weather-related reasons.

In places such as Kiawah Island, while cold and rain can mar a day on the golf course, you're at least left with the possibility of a pleasant day visiting Charleston, a nearby plantation, or various other historic sites. Williamsburg, Virginia similarly offers a variety of alternatives if your golf plans are disrupted by inclement weather. Myrtle Beach has many activities, but keep in mind that many of its attractions shut down during the off season. This is true of many such tourist destinations, so check to see what will be open if you're heading there off season.

Other Activities for Companions and the Occasional Closed Course

Which brings me to the final factor, already touched upon: what else is there besides golf? And does it matter for your purposes? As mentioned above, weather can cause you to reconsider your plans to play, and even the hardiest players are occasionally faced with course closings due to weather. If this happens, you may be stuck with very little to do. Or, you may be traveling with a family, spouse, or others who do not play, in which case you will need to be sure there's plenty for everyone to do.

Certain destinations, such as Pinehurst, NC, are built around golf, and while there are other non-golf activities there, let's face it: golf is the main attraction in town. If this is the case and you're die-hard golfers, your best bet is to go when the weather is most predictable. If you're not die-hard golfers or you have travel companions who don't play, such a destination is likely to be a poor choice. Just because travel pamphlets list some local attractions doesn't mean a museum can't be a rinky-dink thing you can walk through in 20 minutes or less. Don't assume a destination is interesting because it lists a few things to do in the area. Aside from the description exceeding reality in some cases, sometimes "area" attractions are at a greater distance from your location than planned.

The bottom line: if you need non-golf activities, be sure there are real attractions, ones that will be open, and enough to keep people entertained during the length of the trip so that everyone comes home happy.

For example, The Château Élan Resort and Winery in Braselton, Georgia, while a romantic getaway that may be ideal for a couple seeking a weekend getaway, assuming the non-golfer enjoys winery tours, spa treatments and walks or bike rides, for most, this location would unlikely warrant a week-long stay. A similar list of resort activities exists for places like The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, and Pebble Beach, unless your companion doesn't mind bringing or renting a car and taking off to find area attractions such as Carmel, or Monterey, about twenty minutes away. Some like to stay in resort areas to relax, while others need to explore historic sites, museums, or shopping, or other attractions. Be sure there is enough for them to do, and within a reasonable distance based on their desires and/or ability to travel to area attractions.

Of course, there are other non-tangible considerations to be met, such as whether you're looking for a quiet, secluded getaway (in which case, e.g., Myrtle Beach, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Daytona Beach, and other places are definitely out), or a family-friendly place (in which case, you may want to eliminate places like the Homestead, Château Élan and Pebble Beach, and obvious golf meccas, such as Pinehurst, all of which cater more to adults, though some hotels may have children's programs in season).

How Many Courses Do You Need?

Another factor worth considering is the amount of time you have to play, and how many courses you have the time and desire to play. For a weekend getaway, you might consider a destination with only one or a few courses - a destination that otherwise would prove unsuitable for a weeklong excursion. Bald Head Island, North Carolina, for example, is a wonderful private island destination where the only mode of transportation is golf carts. It's a fine, quiet place to relax for adults or families, with terrific beaches, a couple of restaurants, and nice accommodations consisting mainly of rental houses and a couple of bed and breakfasts. The island has only one golf course (albeit an excellent one), although you can take the ferry to the mainland (where you will have parked your car) to take advantage of the hundreds of courses in nearby Myrtle Beach, SC and Brunswick, NC - all within about a half hour's drive.

While all these factors sound like many things to juggle, you'll find that once you've considered your golf and other needs and desires for your golf vacation, certain destinations will begin to "jump out" as being the best choices. While plenty of choices are out there, the ideal vacation depends on carefully choosing, based on everyone's interests and needs, which will help you create a vacation that is memorable for everyone - and for all the right reasons.*

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