For obvious reasons, this has not been a typical year for golf. In the same vein, this has not been a typical year for golf trips.
Golf buddies trips, the sacred lifeblood of the golf travel industry, took a major hit in 2020 (along with the travel industry as a whole). But even amid the craziness that was 2020, I still managed to sneak in my first-ever destination golf.
Our trip was nothing special. In fact, it was nearly nothing at all. Originally, the plan was for a few college buddies and me to meet in Chicago en route to Wisconsin. From there, we’d play Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run and Erin Hills over three days and nights in Kohler. If we had time on the way back, we’d grab a time at Mammoth Dunes.
But as we grew closer to our departure date, many of us started to get cold feet. Covid restrictions left a tight lid where we could go, and even if we could fly, no one felt fully confident we could travel safely. Ultimately, it was safer (and easier) to cancel.
As we mourned our trip, the New York-based members of our crew started talking about a smaller-scale, local voyage into the state’s capital region. With only three of us in-state, our trio could make sure we properly tested and quarantined prior to embarking.
A few weeks later, we were off with plans to play 54 holes at a trio of courses tucked into the gorgeous fall scenery of the Berkshires. Over two-and-a-half days, we’d play three courses — Winding Brook Country Club, Saratoga National, Taconic Golf Club — of increasing architectural significance.
By the end, we left with the first great golf vacation of our adult lives, however altered from the plans we’d originally made. In truth, our silly, small excursion underscored a fundamental truth about golf trips: the good ones all have a few things in familiar. They are as follows.
The 8 components of every great golf trip
1. Good location
Location, location, location. For us, that meant heading into the outskirts of New England in the heart of the autumn. This was a wise decision. For you, that might mean avoiding Orlando in the middle of July or Wisconsin in February. Or it might mean going to either of those places because it’s the midpoint of those in your foursome. In either case, choose wisely.
2. GREAT golf
Incredible things happen when you pair the right place at the right time. We could hardly keep our jaws attached to our mouths rolling through the foliage-swept fairways at Saratoga and Taconic. One member of our trio made the observation that it felt as though we were playing the courses “as the architect had imagined them to play.” With both tracks in impeccable, firm shape, it was hard to argue with him.
Saratoga is a penal brute, but it proved the perfect precursor to quirky, undulating Taconic. And our opening round sipping beers through the meadows — erhm, fairways — at Winding Brook was the finest happy hour of my year.
You don’t have to play seven top 100 courses in seven days, but take some time to research the tracks at your destination. Look for variety, for history, and of course, for quality. Some balance of all three will provide you with the kind of golf fulfillment you deserve for your pilgrimage.
3. TERRIBLE golf
I’m sorry to say it, but it’s a law of the universe: you aren’t on a golf trip until someone in the group has recorded a 10 or broken a club. I know it’s true, you know it’s true. I don’t make the rules.
4. Your own clubs
If you can avoid it paying for rentals, do. You’ll play better golf. You’ll enjoy yourself more. And if you’re like me, you’ll use your bag as the perfect tripod mount for your group photo.
5. Good company
It’s a golf buddies trip. Don’t invite people you don’t like just for the sake of completing the foursome. Take it from me, you won’t lose much by playing with three as opposed to four.
6. A cold drink
If you’re heading to a municipal course, I’m pro-cooler. But irrespective of where you are, stop and smell the hops (or rye). There are few indulgences in life sweeter than the mid-round libation, and one of them is the mid-round, mid-vacation libation. I can feel my serotonin levels spiking just thinking about it.
7. Golf games!
Everybody will lose some money over the course of the trip, but it’ll be worth it when you’re throwing a Tiger-esque fist pump after closing out on the 18th green. (Wolf, Split Sixes and Bingo, Bango, Bongo were the favorites of our trio for the weekend.)
8. A souvenir budget
I’m what some people like to call a “manic planner.” Of course, there’s always wiggle room (particularly when last call comes early), but I like to keep the majority of my finances in check when I head on vacation. For golf trips, this quality takes on added meaning: the souvenir budget.
I have sub-zero self-control when it comes time to head into the pro shop. Like, none at all. But the key isn’t in convincing myself I’ll be better, it’s in forcing myself to improve my behavior.
Before your next trip, set some money aside in a souvenir budget and convert it into cash before you leave. When it comes time to head into the pro shop, use only the cash you have. No cards, no loans, just green. You’ll still wind up with something you love and you’ll skip the vicious credit card bill. It’s a win-win.