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The best airports for golf travel and which ones are a hassle

April 12, 2022

WAITING TO EXHALE At many airports, golf-travel bags come out last in a separate area for oversize luggage, and the wait for anxious golfers can feel like an eternity. Photograph by Zia Soleil/Getty Images

Zia Soleil

The trouble starts in the elevator after leaving my apartment. Apparently, it’s impossible for modern humans to see a golf-travel bag and not make a comment. You know, like, “I’m jealous! Where are you going?” How dare they? Then the Uber driver glares at me like I’m trying to bring an alligator into his Camry. Relax, chief. If it doesn’t fit in the trunk, I’ll put it in the front seat.

Traveling with the sticks can be a headache, but it’s worth it compared to the alternative: not playing golf or, worse, playing with a rental set. There are perks, albeit small ones. For instance, I’m never tempted to take a carry-on, and I can pack two pairs of socks per day instead of one.

Once you arrive at your destination, you’re both glad and relieved that your clubs made it, but the process can be a logistical nightmare.

If there’s any sort of line at the baggage drop-off, you’re screwed. Most travel bags aren’t very ergonomic. I know mine isn’t. There’s no good way to set it down, and you can’t rest your backpack on top of it like you can with a suitcase. If you stand the clubs up vertically, you risk someone knocking them over with just the slightest nudge. Then you get to the front of the line, and the agent won’t let you lay the clubs down on the scale; the person thinks you’re trying to fudge the numbers and makes you stand them up straight. Can’t we all just save ourselves the effort? I’m not a tour player; my bag ain’t 50 pounds.

In some airports, such as New York City’s JFK, you’ve gotta bring your clubs to the oversize baggage area. If there’s no attendant there, tough. Wait until there is.

Once you land, your first job is to figure out whether your clubs will come out with the regular baggage (which is bad because handlers toss suitcases around if they think they’re filled exclusively with clothes and shoes) or in the oversize section (good because they know if they break something oversize, they’re going to hear about it).

These days, roughly 80 percent of airports sequester the golf bags from the normal bags, but the oversize bags seem to always come out last. I could write a novel with the time I’ve spent anxiously waiting for my green travel bag to arrive. It’s a particularly nervy experience in the United terminal at Los Angeles International because the oversize-baggage section is dangerously close to the public sidewalk. Although the area is roped off, the attendants never seem particularly bothered about who’s grabbing which bag. Once you lay eyes on yours, you must pounce. Don’t even get me started about the rush of adrenaline when checking to make sure your driver didn’t get snapped in half. (Looking at you, Maui’s Kahului Airport. Also looking at myself, for being dumb enough not to buy one of those umbrella contraptions for protection).

Next comes the rental car, a process I’ve come to dread in big-city airports—Charlotte and Dallas come to mind—because they’re too spread out. It’s no fun to try to wield that burly sack through a crowded terminal. At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, you’ll sometimes have to walk the equivalent of 18 holes while constantly searching for pathways like an NFL running back . . . only to head up a walking escalator and wait for an annoyingly not-short tram ride to pick up your vehicle. In Denver, you have to ride a tram to the baggage claim and then catch a shuttle to the rental-car center. The Florida airports I frequent—Jacksonville and Orlando—get major kudos for having the rental-car garage across the street from the terminal.

As a rule, the smaller the airport, the easier the experience. My clubs were waiting for me in Charleston, S.C., Columbus, Ohio, and The Bahamas, and they certainly know how to handle a golf bag in Augusta, Ga. But the gold standard of golf-club travel is the Monterey Regional Airport in California. Yes, it ticks all the boxes—small, friendly staff, easily accessible ground transportation—but the real reason it stands alone is a simple one: If you’re there, and you’ve brought the sticks, chances are you’ve got some incredible golf in your future.