As I’ve transitioned into my mid-to-late thirties, what is important to me on a golf trip, or a road trip of any kind, has changed. Comfort and intelligence have replaced expediency and cheapness as overriding principles of the getaway.
Gone are the days of contentment with piling 8 un-showered guys into a car for 10 hours on the road. No longer is passing out on a hotel room floor or sharing a bed with anyone other than The Wife acceptable lodging for the night.
While this may seem like common sense to the more mature among you, Dear Readers, it was a slow evolution to accept that I was finally an adult, and that maybe I should start acting like one, even whilst on vacation.
I’ve voraciously read all the articles about what’s important in planning the perfect golf trip, and those guides have been helpful in designing the last two golf trips from a big picture point of view. However, there are details that I’ve found to be very important that don’t necessarily get mentioned by the mainstream publications.
So with our Guys’ Getaway Golf Trip fresh in my memory bank, here are my top 10 tips for a successful golf trip getaway:
1 – RENT THE BIG SUV – Being the cheap descendent of Scots, I had reserved an “intermediate-size SUV” to transport our group of three from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport to the hotel and golf courses. However, one look at what constituted an intermediate-size SUV and a look back at the golf bag travel cases Bryan and I were toting and I knew that the Rav4 and Jeep Patriot weren’t going to get the job done.
Luckily, our friendly Enterprise salesman was able to accommodate our move up to a rather large (and surprisingly stylish) Chevy Tahoe, in which all of our luggage and persons fit nicely. There are plenty of ways to save money on a golf trip, but skimping on adequately roomy transportation shouldn’t be one of those ways. Go large if group transportation is part of the plan, with a large SUV or a minivan if available.
2 – PLAY SOMETHING BESIDES STROKE PLAY EVERY ROUND – Turning a golf trip into the equivalent of the City Open championship by playing 36 holes a day may not be every trip member’s idea of a good time. Sure, there are exceptions when wanting to test yourselves in stroke play on all the courses of one of the large resorts like Kohler or Bandon is an admirable goal worth pursuing. But in most cases, changing up the format from round to round will add to everyone’s on-course enjoyment.
Our group of three guys played four rounds in two days. During that span we played 5+3+1, a skins game, a Nassau Shamble, and a 2 v. 1 alternate shot match. The different formats really helped keep spirits up and the golf fresh, even as the long afternoons drug on under the sweltering Alabama summer sun. No one lost more than $20 gambling on our matches, and the Shamble and alternate shot formats helped save, or at least limit the damage to the arms, backs, and legs of three pasty desk jockeys.
3 – HAVE SUGGESTIONS FOR WHERE TO EAT, BUT BE FLEXIBLE – For our group, it was understood that dining together was part of the plan. I did some preliminary research on possible fun eateries before the trip both in Auburn and Montgomery. While those barbecue joints I’d scouted would’ve been great, the reality of when we finished playing and were clean enough to be seen in public didn’t match up with the kitchen hours of some of the more highly recommended establishments.
So, after walking around downtown Auburn, Alabama (which is a wonderful, charming little place), we ended up stumbling into Tacorita, a locally owned, locally sourced taco-centric Mexican restaurant. The food was fantastic, the atmosphere was light and fun, and I think we’d all agree rushing to try to make it to our pre-selected destinations would have spoiled the fun we had recounting the days’ triumphs and defeats at the fantastic alternative Bryan found.
4 – PLAYING 36 HOLES A DAY IS FINE…ONCE – My more macho devils on my shoulder would like me to think I’m still 18 or 25 years old, still capable of playing as much golf as my wallet would allow in however short a period of time as required. This is folly, and I know it. On a golf trip, 36 holes once is doable and can even be thoroughly enjoyable.
However, unless you’re college-aged or in peak physical condition, more than 18 holes of golf on consecutive days stretches the limits of the human condition. There is no shame in not trying to play every golf course in the area on a golf trip. Even as enthusiastic as our group was on our second morning, by the time we reached our second 18 of our second day, we were all mentally and physically exhausted. So the lesson learned is to not be afraid to try to mix in some organized non-golf activities: fishing, sightseeing, target shooting, or taking in a local sporting event while on a golf trip are perfectly good uses of time together with friends.
5 – STAY IN A SUITE, ADJACENT ROOMS, OR A LODGE – The laughs and camaraderie don’t have to stop after everyone settles up at the 19th Hole. Some of the most valuable time and best memories generated by a golf trip are often produced during the down time, just relaxing in the hotel room after the golf is done but before the night’s dinner and entertainment. Plus, the herd mentality will help keep the slow pokes among us on a better schedule, which benefits all members of the trip.
For groups over a certain size, staying in a single or adjacent rooms is impractical. Don’t dismiss renting a cabin or lodge during a golf trip. Sure, the sticker price will be high, but when spread amongst all the members of a group, the convenience of being in one place and the time saved and spent with friends more than justifies the marginally more expensive cost.
6 – PREPARE AND DISCLOSE THE BUDGE EARLY ON – As dictator-in-chief of this year’s trip, I made sure everyone was aware of what the costs for the trip were going to be and when I expected to collect the money for those expenses. All my friends had to do was hand me a check, pack their clubs, get to the airport, and the rest of the trip would take care of itself. And it did.
Instead of worrying about the prices of the greens fees or the hotel room, we could worry about who was getting strokes in the afternoon matches. Importantly, by establishing the gambling games and amounts beforehand, no one was uncomfortable that the wagering would get out of hand (or that they’d have to give or take an IOU). Get as much information out to the members of the trip as early as possible so that expectations are aligned with the experience, and the group can focus on the fun rather than the logistics or finances.
7 – WEATHER IS (MOSTLY) IRRELEVANT – Sure, we’d all love to chase the ideal golfing conditions from Florida starting in winter, up through Dixie and Arizona in early spring, all the way up to Northern Michigan or Wisconsin (or Canada) as summer sets in. But a golf trip can still be a lot of fun without fighting the crowds during the peak seasons and paying apex prices.
Our group headed to southern Alabama in late July. We knew it was going to be sweltering before we ever arrived in the Yellowhammer state. The oppressive heat and humidity were factored into the calculus of our games when we agreed on the trip, so despite sweating through shirts and applying multiple doses of sunscreen, the weather was largely a non-factor in determining the quality of our experience.
We caught one pop-up downpour during our final round of the trip, but otherwise were blessed with bright sunshine. Short of a lengthy lightning or thunderstorm delay, with appropriate expectations and a good attitude, the weather encountered on a golf trip shouldn’t matter.
8 – CHANGE YOUR SHIRT AND SOCKS AT LUNCH – If you do plan on playing more than 18 holes of golf on a given day, change your shirt and your socks after each round. I can’t tell you, Dear Readers, how much better I felt after lunch on the first day after pulling on a dry pair of socks and a fresh golf shirt.
It took all of four minutes to excuse myself to the locker room and change my clothes. However, what I gained mentally and physically by no longer having a sticky, sweat-soaked shirt hanging against my torso gave me a distinct advantage over my playing partners in the afternoon session.
9 – ACTUALLY GO ON VACATION – Two weeks before our golf trip, I played in a Wednesday Kentucky Amateur Series tournament in Hopkinsville, several hours away from Lexington. Just before teeing off, I received a series of e-mails that basically resulted in a real estate deal I had been working on falling apart, albeit temporarily. However, it was enough of a concern that I remained distracted the entire rest of the day, playing and posting my worst performance in a tournament this year, including recording an 11 on the par-4 first hole.
In contrast, during our recent Golf Trip, I put my phone on Airplane Mode so that I wouldn’t receive any calls, texts, or emails during my round, but could still use my cellphone camera to document our adventures. The difference in quality of the golf experiences between those two rounds is almost indescribable, as I was able to completely relax and immerse myself in the moment during the golf trip.
So the lesson learned is that when getting away on a golf trip, actually get away from the daily grind and the moment-to-moment connectivity. You’ll enjoy the golf trip experience exponentially more than you would trying to keep in the loop about what is going on back at the office.
10 – PLAN THE GETAWAY DAY SO THAT YOU AREN’T RUSHED – If you plan to play golf on the last day of the trip before traveling home, don’t cut it too close with the members of the group’s travel itineraries. Make sure you leave enough time in the schedule for a quick shower and some food before beginning the journey to the homestead.
Auburn, AL is about 90 minutes closer to Atlanta than Montgomery, AL is, so I purposefully scheduled our getaway day rounds in Auburn so we’d have plenty of time to get our two rounds in and compose ourselves before heading home. The RTJ Trail folks were even able to accommodate our request to be the first ones out on the course to start the day so that we wouldn’t get bogged down and behind schedule due to on-course traffic.
The stars aligned and we were able to secure an early flight home, even after playing 36 holes and taking advantage of the locker room showers at Grand National. There’s nothing wrong with trying to squeeze “one more round” in on the trip, but don’t cut it too close, or you’ll be constantly clock-watching rather than enjoying yourself.
I hope you find these tips helpful. Abide by these simple rules to a better golf trip, and you’ll be able to focus on the fun, the friendship, and the memory making, which are the reasons for the trip in the first place.