So You Wanna Take a Golf Trip?
Years ago, before I knew what the Internet was (I still don't, but that's another story), before I had a cell phone (I have one now, but lose it more often than I use it) and before cars came with dashboard computers that can navigate you to any golf course on the planet, my idea of golf travel consisted of a hastily packed duffel bag, a trunk full of golf clubs, golf bag and shoes, a Waffle House pocket guide and a rolled up, nacho-chip-stained copy of Golf Digest's 1990 Places to Play guide.
This was a while ago, mind you. Well before Places to Play became the comprehensive golf tome you hold in your hands now. But even then, which according to the National Golf Foundation was approximately 3,000 new golf course openings ago, that little 16-page volume of course listings and phone numbers and eight-word course descriptions was my Rosetta Stone, my Book of Revelation, my treasure map. Anytime I turned a corner and noticed unusually green grass through a stand of trees, I slowed the car and found the listing for some soon-to-be-discovered pot of golf gold in my rumpled up Places to Play. In it, I would find my way to golf courses I might never have known or seen and, more often than not, never saw again. To me, they became legendary places, not because of their stature or rank, but solely for the good fortune of having found my way to them and then spending four hours or so building a lifetime of memories. There was that November afternoon playing Penn National's original 18 in a snow squall, that January side trip that led me and a buddy to a sporty Pete Dye municipal course in High Point, N.C. (Oak Hollow, green fee: eight bucks), that lonely Fourth of July when I stumbled upon the Lewisburg (W.Va.) Elks Country Club and that Christmas present trip my dad and I took to Sea Trail Plantation in Sunset Beach, N.C., where we sang country songs and alternately navigated by way of the Waffle House guide and Places to Play.
Though I still prefer to travel the old way, it is not the method I'd recommend. In fact, that's why I went to some golf travel planners, people whose job it is to figure out what works and what doesn't on a golf trip. Keep their thoughts in mind when that old golf wanderlust starts to kick in. Plan accordingly, certainly, but stick that copy of Places to Play in your glove compartment or carry-on luggage. You never know when some green grass might catch your eye and lead you to your own new promised land.
These are what I like to call the emergency nine of golf travel advice.
1. Information. We live in the information age. The Places to Play guide is testimony to that fact. It took the Internet, the reach of the world's largest golf publication, a squadron of editors and a team of computer programmers to get this information in your hands. Your job is to use it. There is more information available about golf courses and golf resorts than ever before thought humanly possible. If you want to know what kind of sand they use in the facial scrub mixture at the new spa at Pinehurst, you can check out their website for all the details. If you want to get your hands on a Whistling Straits yardage book before you actually arrive at The American Club, you can call the resort's toll-free number and have them send you the glossy picture book overnight. If you want to read up on the 10 best resorts in Northern California, you can go to your local bookstore and buy at least one volume on the subject, maybe two. The point is, don't simply acknowledge that this information is out there, consume it. It helps you decide whether Myrtle Beach fits your needs better than Palm Springs. It helps you find the best deals and the type of courses you're looking for. Most importantly, it gets every aspect of your trip straight in the collective mind of your group. And that's an often-overlooked essential, whether you're planning your own trip or going through a travel planner.