How to book a last-minute buddies golf trip on a tight budget
My colleague recently posed a tantalizing scenario: “Say I gave you $5,000 to spend on a golf trip with three friends,” he said. “Where would you go?”
I knew immediately.
Hilton Head, South Carolina. I’ve been there before, years ago for the RBC Heritage, but I had never played a round at Harbour Town, the tournament’s host course, which has been on my must-play list ever since I first logged endless virtual rounds there as a kid on the old MS-DOS Links 386 computer game.
Spending virtual money on a golf trip is a fun prospect, but if you’re looking to travel to Hilton Head with real money, here’s my $5,000 budget breakdown that includes airfare, lodging, three rounds of golf and a four-night stay at a nice hotel in Hilton Head in early September.
Hilton Head is a difficult place to get to — which is part of its charm, of course. I live in Phoenix, so a direct flight is out of the question. Landing directly in Hilton Head (HHI) is an expensive prospect as well, but being mindful of the budget I was able to save nearly $800 by flying to nearby Charleston instead. Yeah, it’s about a two-hour drive from there, but it’s a beautiful city and well worth the savings.
Both American and Delta were in the same price wheelhouse for this itinerary, but I opted for the Delta flight that left early in the morning so that, even with a connection and the drive from Charleston, you arrive in Hilton Head in time for dinner.
Total airfare for four travelers: $1,176
A rental car is essential for a golf trip like this one, but getting a car that is big enough for four people and four golf bags is even more important. You have no choice but to go Full Size SUV (think: Chevy Tahoe), perfectly sized for a road trip like this. Expedia was a helpful resource here, and found what I think is a pretty reasonable price of $443 in and out of CHS airport.
Remaining budget: $3,381
I went bargain hunting for hotel rooms, without getting too desperate. That led me down the path to a $172/night (inclusive of the daily resort fee) beachfront Marriott resort, which seems like a great deal. With four adults traveling, it makes sense to get two rooms so each person can at least have his or her own bed, but you could of course maximize your budget by squeezing four people into a single room. Not something I’m opting for on this vacay! Two rooms with a nice beach to hang out at after your round.
$172/night x 2 rooms x four nights = $1,376
Remaining budget: $2,005
Now, let’s spend some money on what we came for: the golf. The crown jewel of a Hilton Head golf trip is a loop around Harbour Town Golf Links, No. 9 on GOLF’s most recent ranking of the Top 100 Courses You Can Play. It’s one players rave about, too, with many saying it’s their favorite course on the schedule, so it’s a must play for your trip.
Like most good things in life, it’s not cheap, but you can save a bit by eschewing morning tee times, which are a premium in Hilton Head. If you can wait until the afternoon to play, you’ll save a valuable chunk of your budget for other things, like food and drinks.
A 1:12 p.m. tee time at Harbour Town will set you back $195 per player, for a grand total of $780 for the group. If that stings a bit, consider this: that amount covers less than a round and a half at Pebble Beach.
Another late tee-time perk? At a nice resort like the Marriott, you can spend a leisurely morning by the beach or pool before heading to the course.
For a solid Day 2 option, I like Palmetto Dunes. There are three course options, but the RTJ track gives you a nice view of the ocean and will set you back only $79 per player if you tee off after 2:00 p.m. That’s a grand total of $316.
A third option is the well-reviewed Hilton Head National. A Gary Player design that’s a short drive from the island. On GolfNow, you can score a green fee of $54 per player for a tee time after 2:00 p.m. That’s the best deal yet, at $216 for a foursome.
Remaining budget: $693
Let’s be real: food and drinks can be a big-time budget breaker, especially if you’re footing the bill for four people. One way to mitigate the cost is to buy your own booze ahead of time, and stock your hotel room fridge with milk, yogurt and cereal to keep breakfast costs down. But it is still possible to have some fun with the money that’s left. To spend the remaining $693, try this:
Two “splurge” dinners (spending an average of $45 per person): $360
Three budget lunches (spending an average of $10 per person): $120
Two moderate dinners (spending an average of $20 per person): $200
Grand dining total: $680
Remaining budget: $13
Not bad, right? And hey, remember, if you go overboard one night, there’s always McDonald’s to get you back on track!
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