Road Trip

How to plan the best summer golf trip you and your buddies will ever take

February 27, 2020
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Evan Schiller

A golf trip with your buddies anytime is a beautiful thing. But a summertime trip, well, that’s next level. The days are long and dependably warm, so you can play 36 holes—or even more if you’ve got the stamina. The golf season has been underway awhile, so you’ve had a chance to groove your swing a little. Or even if you haven’t, there’s still hope.

Summer is full of optimism.

And let’s not forget, the courses in so many summertime destinations are amazing: the startling elevation changes of tree-lined Northern Michigan, the rugged glory of unfrozen Wisconsin, the rolling, seemingly endless fairways of Ireland and Scotland. Places that are unplayable in the winter become magical in the summer.

So what’s stopping you from heading somewhere great with your golf buddies? Scroll down as we walk you through what it takes—from picking a destination to planning a trip to making the most of it once you’re there.

What are the key factors in selecting a buddies-trip destination? In no particular order, here they are.

TEMPERATURE°

For summer trips, you’re essentially picking from a menu with three options: (1) Warm. (2) Hot. (3) WTF. The first two cover most classic summertime destinations—your St. Andrews, your Oregon coast, your Nova Scotia.

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Brian Krehbiel

“Summer in Michigan is perfect for golf,” says Joey Pena, who lives in the Detroit area and has organized a buddies trip in the northern part of his state for the past five summers. “It’s 80 or 90 degrees, the courses are in great shape, and you can tee off before 6 a.m. and play until after 10 at night.”

There are only a couple of downsides. One is these areas are likely to be crowded, precisely because it’s summertime. The other is that this is their peak season, which means you’ll be paying top prices. For example, the rate for a round at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, is $210 in early May—then leaps to $320 in July, August and September.

For this reason some buddies-trip planners, looking to keep down costs, gravitate toward destinations where the mercury is highest.

Rob Kelly, organizer of an annual four-day trip called the Bush League Open Championship, led his crew of 12 high school friends to Scottsdale last June. “I did have to fight with the guys on that,” he says. “Everyone was worrying about the heat. I had to enlist a couple of guys to do some lobbying through back channels.”

When they arrived, it was 108 degrees. “We got those sun sleeves for our arms and bucket hats, and we drank a ton of water,” he says. “The courses do a great job. There was cold water everywhere. Even the beverage cart had iced towels for us.”

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Ken DeLago

Because Arizona doesn’t adjust its clocks for daylight saving time, it gets bright early. So the Bush League guys were going off at 7:15 a.m. Only once did they try two rounds in a day. “It was a battle,” Kelly says, “but if you’re prepared and don’t abuse your body the night before, it’s OK.” Most of the time they’d finish with their golf before noon. “We’d get some lunch, some beers and then hang out by the pool at our Airbnb for the rest of the day.”

They played at We-Ko-Pa, Troon North, Grayhawk and the Short Course at Mountain Shadows. The cost for four nights lodging and five rounds of golf: $450 a man. “At the end, everyone was saying, ‘Oh my God, let’s come back to Scottsdale next year!’ ” Kelly says with a laugh. (Note: Despite all that, he’s moving the Bush League Open Championship to Toronto this summer, which should be a lot more comfortable.)

CO$T

Just as no two golf swings are identical, no two golfers view buddies-trip spending the same. Typically, you’ll have a mix of big spenders and penny pinchers. The trick is striking a balance so that everyone is happy.

Looking for destinations with off-peak pricing isn’t the only way to help keep costs in line. Every March, Joey Pena attends an event called the Michigan Golf Show, where equipment makers, clothing companies and golf courses come to pitch themselves to consumers. He’s found it is fertile ground for deal-making.

“They’ll haggle,” says Pena, whose trip is called Hoodwinked. “We go in there and say, ‘OK, what can you do for us today?’ ” Pena once walked up to the owner of a course and told him a competing course was letting his group play for $50 a man. “He said, ‘I’ll do you one better. You can play my course for $50, and I’ll throw in dinner for your group!’

Interested in trying this for yourself? Do an Internet search for “golf trade shows near me.” There are quite a few of them around the country.

Replay rounds are another good cost-saving trick. Many courses will offer a discount if you play the same course twice in a day. Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon charges $295 a round in its summer peak season, for example. That drops to $150 for your second round.

Yes, that’s still $222.50 a round—which is a lot. But then, it is Bandon Dunes—site of four courses in America’s 100 Greatest and No. 1 on our ranking of U.S. Summertime Buddies Trip Destinations.

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Ken DeLago

Many resorts also offer “unlimited golf” packages, which promise even bigger savings. Pena’s a fan of these deals. “With unlimited golf, we can go out and do a barefoot round, drop another ball if you want to, play some music,” he says. At the Grand Traverse Resort on an unlimited golf package, he and his friends have played as many as 52 holes in a day.

QUALITY OF COURSES

For some, the buddies trip is purely about the camaraderie. Others get a thrill from checking off top-ranked courses on their bucket lists. The success of your trip depends on knowing what your buddies are most interested in.

Cory Hall’s Caddyshack Conquest, a trip he has run for the past nine years, is mainly about friendship. It started as a small group of buddies from Iowa and has expanded as other guys began bringing along their pals. This summer they’re heading to the Denver area with seven golfers.

Everyone who comes on the trip gets to vote on where they’ll go the next year. Once that decision is made, Hall finds a house on Airbnb that’s within easy driving distance of a few good courses.

“We aren’t big on trying to get on the prestigious courses,” Hall says. “With the skill level drastically varying, from single-digit handicaps to guys who just play once a year, we try to keep rounds typically under $60.”

In a nod to the better golfers in the group, Hall likes to include one round at a noteworthy course. This year in Denver it’ll be Fossil Trace, a tough and visually dramatic layout in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Weekend green fees start at $100 in the summer.

Carlos Soto Healy, who runs a financial consultancy in Monterrey, Mexico, is more of a trophy hunter. He has led a summer trip for the past few years, taking his friends to Kohler and Pinehurst, among others. “I’m mainly interested in courses on America’s 100 Greatest or the world rankings,” he says.

This summer they’re going to British Columbia and Alberta, where they’ll play Jasper Park Lodge and Banff Springs. Both are among the top-10 courses in Canada, according to our latest rankings.

“If I ask my friends, everyone wants to go to different places,” Soto Healy says. “So I say, ‘This is where I want to go. Anyone want to come with me?’ ” The courses in Canada are less expensive than top U.S. courses, and his group is staying at “reasonable” hotels charging the guys about $80 a man if they want to double up. Seven nights, eight rounds of golf and a rented minivan will cost them about $2,500 a person.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

At remote golf destinations like Michigan’s Forest Dunes or Canada’s Cabot Links, often the only sound you’ll hear at night is the gentle chirp of crickets (mixed with the sound of guys snoring). This is part of the appeal for many groups.

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Nick Wall

But if you’re looking for a more varied mix of after-golf activities, consider bigger cities. As part of the Caddyshack Conquest this summer, Hall is thinking about organizing a trip to a Colorado Rockies game one night or maybe a tour of the Coors Brewery.

Casino golf resorts are another good option. Turning Stone in Verona, N.Y., Salish Cliff in Washington and Minnesota’s The Wilderness at Fortune Bay are all far from the big-city hustle while offering lots of excitement after golf.

So where will you be heading this summer? Take a look at our 23 Best Summertime Buddies Destinations on page 98—and start planning.


TIPS FOR PLANNING YOUR TRIP

Committing to a golf trip can be difficult given the demands of work and home life. Yet the same digital technology that keeps us tethered to our jobs also makes it easier to communicate with our friends and plan a much-needed group getaway.

Kyle McLinn, who organizes an annual Ryder Cup-style competition with his friends, offers a counterintuitive approach to starting the conversation. “Instead of asking your buddies which dates work best, ask which dates definitely don’t work,” says the oil company landman from Edmond, Okla. “With eight or more guys, it’s near impossible to secure one date that works best for all. You’ll begin identifying a couple dates that will work for the majority of the group by taking this approach, and whoever can make it will make it.”

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Ken DeLago

Group texts or GroupMe chats can get unwieldy, especially with a larger pool of buddies. Apps such as Mobili or Prava keep all trip planning and photo sharing self-contained, a nice feature to avoid the hassle of keeping up with yet another group chat. Shared document services like Google Sheets are useful for capturing everyone’s schedules and gauging interest in locations.

When it comes to planning the itinerary, first block out the most important moments of the trip so you can plan around those. When I was planning a golf trip to the Waste Management Phoenix Open for my buddy’s bachelor party, I knew attending the tournament, a trip to Topgolf and festivities for that weekend’s Super Bowl were important. Figuring out when and where to play fell into place after slotting those events.

Budget, of course, affects all parts of the trip. Don’t forget the sneaky expenses of traveling—Ubers, rental cars and club transportation like Ship Sticks.

What courses are you going to play? GolfDigest.com and its rankings of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses and the Best Courses in each state is a great place to start. Also, check out our Places to Play group on our Facebook page. Here you’ll find thousands of other avid golfers with advice on where to play, no matter your budget.

Something else to consider: Non-member requests to play private clubs are more common than ever. McLinn says his group has had success getting on exclusive clubs this way, reaching out “respectfully” to the head professional and offering to pay all fees. It doesn’t hurt to ask. —STEPHEN HENNESSEY