Tips and tricks for a better trip
If you want to maximize fun and minimize panic on your next golf vacation, then prepare up front. That is, think about where you’re heading and what’s unique about that place. Then imagine everything you might encounter on your journey, and address your concerns before you walk out your front door. Work the trip chronologically through your mind, and use the Internet as much as possible. As the time of your trip approaches, start a running checklist of everything you need to pack, keeping it on your nightstand so it’s conveniently located.
The first thing you’ll probably want to do is buy plane tickets, if needed, and then rent a hotel room. The rule of thumb on plane fares: The earlier you buy your tickets, the lower the price. If you’re a risk-taker, you might wait for last-minute specials. But the downside is that your route might not come down in price, forcing you to shell out top dollar to an airline. Sign up for price-saver e-mails from all of the airlines, as well as e-mails from discounters like travelzoo.com. Monitor them regularly for deals to your destination, or try an all-encompassing travel search engine, such as kayak.com or airfarewatchdog.com, which finds nearly every airline’s current fares, then sorts them into one list. Booking your plane flights online usually saves you money and time over buying them on the phone. Many airlines now charge roughly $15 per ticket to book tickets through their phone operators. You can also select your seat, print out the plane tickets and not have to worry if the phone operator got it right. One other tip to save you airport time: You can check in on your home computer within 24 hours of your flight and forego long airport lines. And on the way home, assuming you didn’t lug your laptop and a printer with you on vacation, use the airport check-in kiosks. The lines for those are usually shorter than other check-in lines, and in many cases, you still can change seats, check your luggage and speak face-to-face with an airline representative.
Your computer may also be your best travel agent for hotels, too. Consider using a professional tour operator for international golf trips (haversham.com and perrygolf.com are excellent). They not only have contacts and employees in popular golf destinations, but also the connections and know-how to make your trip a relaxing pleasure—and without being a lot more expensive than if you tried arranging everything yourself. If you already know where you want to stay, visit the hotel or resort Website and see if it’s offering golf stay-and-play specials. Even if it isn’t, the online room rates often undercut prices that the hotel quotes over the phone. Some golf resorts will book your tee times over the Web, especially if you signed up for a stay-and-play package.
In fact, check the Internet for golf courses wherever you’re headed in the United States. Assemble a list of all courses at your destination using golflink.com, which has organized links to nearly every U.S. course. Then visit the Website of any course you’re planning to play. Write down the address and phone number on a list that you’ll take with you on your trip. When calling courses to schedule times, asking how long rounds typically take that time of year and that day of the week is a great idea. You may discover that you’re scheduling your round on a league day. This is important because if you’re planning to play another course later that day, you’ll need the tee times spaced adequately apart to allow you driving time between courses. If you’re on a budget, arrange to play a less-expensive course in the morning during prime hours, then a pricier resort layout later for twilight rates. Also, ask if the greens are being aerated that day. Why waste your time playing a great course that has temporary greens?
You can also save time by foregoing phone calls to each individual course and instead calling a tee-time booking agent for that area, which may also have prereserved times or the clout to squeeze you in exactly when you want to play. Google an agent by searching your destination plus the words “tee-time booking agents.” Be aware that some work only with specific courses, and all charge nominal service fees.
Once you’ve booked your plane, hotel and golf, start preparing for all the other potential headaches you’re likely to encounter on your trip. Again, think chronologically. If you’re renting a car, which you should do online (and print out your reservation confirmation to take with you on your trip), find out whether there are toll roads leaving the airport. If so, remember to keep change in your pocket—“exact change” lanes can save you time on toll roads.