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Golf & Finance

Shipping Your Clubs Ahead

The economics of not checking your golf bag

December 2012

I travel a lot and play golf a lot. (I know, my burden is heavy.) But, with few exceptions, you won't see me schlepping my golf bag through airport terminals or heaving it onto rental-car shuttles anymore. For the past couple of years, I've been sending my clubs ahead--so they're waiting for me when I arrive.

There are a few companies that ship golf clubs, including familiar names such as UPS and FedEx, plus some specialty outfits such as Ship Sticks, Luggage Free and Luggage Forward.

The amount you pay depends on how far you're traveling and how quickly you need your clubs to get there. A recent round trip from Tennessee to Oregon cost me $170. An earlier trip from Tennessee to New York was $99 one way. Even though the second trip was shorter, I needed my bag in three days versus five days for the trip to Oregon.

The last few times, I've used Luggage Forward. In each case it was actually a FedEx truck that pulled up outside my home and collected the clubs. This is because Luggage Forward, like many companies, outsources the freight handling to others. "We use FedEx, UPS and DHL, plus we backfill with some local carriers where needed," explains co-founder Zeke Adkins.

So why use his firm and not just go directly to the carriers? "Typically we're less expensive," Adkins says. "We do a lot of shipping, so we get a big volume discount that we can pass on to the customer."

Based on my unscientific study, he's right. I priced trips from New York to Bandon Dunes and Chicago to Myrtle Beach using Luggage Forward, FedEx and UPS. FedEx and UPS were generally more expensive and, honestly, their websites were far harder to navigate.

Adkins and his business partner, Aaron Kirley, got into the luggage business in the mid-2000s. They had just been talked out of pursuing a DVD vending-machine idea--a concept that turned into a big moneymaker for Redbox and others--and were looking for something else. From the beginning, they wanted to make Luggage Forward easy for shipping novices. Planning and pricing a trip on their website is a snap. Unlike some that ask for your bag's weight or dimensions, luggage forward.com allows you to pick "standard golf bag" or "large golf bag," with plain-English descriptions of what these terms mean. You select the date you want the clubs to arrive at your destination, a pickup time, and the date you want them back home. Voilà. You've got a price.

Business is booming, says Adkins. The company reported 2011 revenue of $3.1 million. That's up from $1.4 million in 2008--a growth rate that landed Luggage Forward on Inc. Magazine's list of America's 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies. It helps that so many airlines have started charging extra for baggage. Typically they charge $25 each way on domestic flights. Many charge more for "additional" bags. Let's say you're on American Airlines, checking a suitcase and a golf bag on a domestic trip. The first bag costs $25, the second $35. Bringing three bags? The third will run you $150. Each way.

True, even with the airline charges, most travelers will save money by bringing their clubs on the plane rather than shipping them. This is especially true on international trips. Round trip to Scotland from the U.S. will cost you $524 per golf bag using Luggage Forward. But, as Adkins points out, it's not purely a financial decision. "Our customers are happy to pay for a better experience, and that's what we give them. We're in the hassle-reduction business."

The company, which takes deserved pride in its customer service, makes a point of calling and emailing everyone when their bags have been picked up and when they arrive. On the very rare occasions when they don't get there on time, Luggage Forward will refund the shipping charge, plus $500.

Despite all that, I know shipping clubs makes some people uncomfortable. Matt Ginella, Golf Digest's travel editor, doesn't send his set ahead because he always wants to be as close to them as possible. I get that. On the other hand, back when I used to bring my clubs on every flight, they showed up a day late three times in as many years. The number of times that has happened when shipping my clubs ahead: zero.

ANOTHER WAY

One obvious alternative to shipping your clubs: rental sets. At my level (mid-80s), I always figured it didn't matter much if I used my clubs or loaners. I just went through all my 2012 road-trip rounds and studied the scores. Conclusion: Using my clubs, the average was almost a full stroke higher than when I played with rentals.

Luggage Forward's Favorite Cause » www.carbonfund.org

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