10 tips for getting the most from your golf holiday
Adam Scott’s victory last weekend in the golfing world’s premium event -- the Masters -- will no doubt lead to a surge in the popularity of the game back in his home country of Australia.
But it’s happening elsewhere, too, with or without big names winning trophies.
Golf holiday sales were up more than 9% in 2012 compared to the previous year, according to the International Association of Golf Tour Operators.
If you’re a traveling golfer, here are some tips that will at least keep the travel part of the equation as pleasant as possible.
You’re on your own once you hit the tees.
Got your own golf travel tips? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
1. Leave your clubs behind
Some airlines charge up to US$100 each way for carrying a golf bag. Others let you take your clubs for free -- at the time of writing these included Aegean Airlines, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.
You can also check your destination for companies like Paul McGinley's Clubs To Hire, which rents full sets of new clubs from the likes of Callaway and TaylorMade for as little as €35 (US$46) a week in many European countries.
2. Choose all-inclusive golf destinations
Green fees can hike the cost of your trip significantly. However, many resorts offer stay-and-play packages, which allow you unlimited golf on their courses, or at least a certain number of rounds included in the package price.
Costa Navarino in Greece offers an Experience Golf package that includes seven nights accommodation and five rounds of golf on either of its two great courses.
Golf Asian offers stay-and-play packages all over Asia.
Pinehurst in the United States offers a Donald Ross package that includes two nights accommodation with breakfast and dinner, plus three rounds on any of its eight courses.
3. Pick new resorts and courses
Nothing ruins a golf holiday more than playing on a rutted cow pasture.
The best way to ensure a quality golfing experience, aside from selecting championship venues like Kiawah Island in South Carolina, is to pick a new venue. Because new clubs need to establish a reputation among many thousands of competitors, they're less likely to cut corners.
If you’re dead set on a particular course, phone or email in advance and ask what condition their courses will be in when you visit. You'd be surprised at how many honest answers you get.
4. Choose famous courses/destinations early in the season
St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, Mission Hills, Dubai -- they all have a lot of great, famous golf courses that will give you bragging rights later on.
And, yes, bragging rights are surprisingly important at golf clubs -- telling an opponent on the first tee that you just played the Old Course at St. Andrews or the Emirates Golf Club (where Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and the late Seve Ballestros have all won the Dubai Desert Classic) can put you one or two up before a stroke has been played.
The easiest way to get a tee time on a famed course is to play early in the season.
5. Budget travelers, choose an emerging golf destination
Golf will usually be much cheaper in emerging golf destinations desperate to establish a reputation.
Accommodation and dining may also be significantly cheaper in the resorts in these areas.
Some great courses have recently opened at resorts in emerging golf countries such as Bulgaria, Cambodia, Greece, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Vietnam. Try also China and India.
6. Use a sturdy golf flight bag
If you do travel with your own clubs, choose a good golf flight bag.
You'd be amazed at how many golfers check in their golf bags without a sturdy flight bag cover. This frequently results in broken or missing clubs.
Flight bag covers are usually roomy and you can put extra bits of luggage inside that won't fit into your suitcase.
7. Use a TSA-approved lock
A few years back I retrieved my suitcase from the baggage carousel in the United States to find the brand new lock had vanished. Inside was a notice from U.S. Customs saying they'd had to check for dangerous materials.
No compensation was offered.
Better known as the TSA, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has wide-ranging powers when it comes to ensuring the safety of travel in the United States.
Use a TSA-approved locks for your suitcases and golf flight bags. These can be opened with a special tool by all customs officers around the world and then relocked.
They're also extraordinarily difficult for bag snatchers to open.
8. Check if the course allows buggies
Not all courses have or allow buggies ("carts" in the United States). One of the world’s most highly regarded golf resorts, Bandon Dunes in Oregon, is one.
This is fine if you're young and fit enough to walk 18 or 36 holes every day, but for older or less fit golfers, buggies are an important, enjoyable part of holiday golf.
So check before you book that your chosen course allows them.
9. Treat yourself to a caddy
Many golfers can't afford a caddy every time they hit the links -- they're expensive if you're playing golf in Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States.
But in many countries, especially the emerging golf destinations mentioned above, caddies are cheap, frequently costing between US$5-10 a round, cheaper than a buggy.
Caddies are often good players themselves and can be particularly helpful at reading putts on strange greens.
And they're usually positive about your game no matter how bad you play.
10. Watch a tournament, then play
There's nothing better than watching the game’s greats play a major tournament and then playing the same course a couple of days later.
At this year's Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes you could have watched Ernie Els win the tournament on Sunday and played the same course the following Tuesday. Amazing.
This isn't possible at Augusta, nor at most U.S. Open or U.S. PGA Championship courses.
But you can do it every year at the Open in Britain and you can do it at most other tournament courses.
Just call the course far ahead of your chosen tournament, book a tee time for as soon after the tournament finishes as possible and have the golf experience of a lifetime.