An Overview of Golf Vacations
For those who wish to improve their game (or simply watch a lot of great golf): schools, resorts and tours
The sport of swells doesn't have to be. A top golf specialist reveals how you, too, can tee off at acceptable costs, and yet at famous clubs and courses.
In Scotland, the birthplace of golf, the sport is still infused with the character of its humble origins, a game invented by working class shepherds, played first with sticks and rocks, later balls and clubs. Modern day residents and students in St. Andrews, the town synonymous with the game, can play the legendary courses of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club for an entire season for what Americans pay for a single round at Pebble Beach.
But golf in this country has strayed from its egalitarian beginnings and for more than a hundred years has been perceived as a sport for the idle rich. If the golf media, with its "best of" and "must play" lists were to be believed, no round under $100 would be satisfactory, and a week-long golf vacation would be the sole province of Fortune 500 executives.
Golf for everyone
America is awash in first-rate, bargain-priced golf, and you can actually play and stay for a week for less than what one round on the nation's most expensive layouts would cost. Not only is cheap golf out there, but there is great cheap golf. So whether you want a week of warm-weather golf, a long weekend away from home, or a chance to hone your skills at a golf school, we'll be naming the very best deals.
First, a summary: there are several reasons golf can be cheap. One is competition in areas where so many courses are found that prices have to be low. Nowhere is this more the case than in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a budget golf mecca. Off-season weather also brings cheap golf, and summer heat wilts prices in Florida, Arizona, and desert regions. Next, "municipal courses," a loosely used term for government-subsidized facilities, can also be great bargains whether they are affiliated with a municipality or not. While many are individual courses not worth traveling to, others, like the excellent string of facilities throughout Alabama, are destinations in their own right.
More reasons: Golf courses are increasingly being built to encourage summer traffic at winter destinations such as ski resorts, and some, like those we've found in Canada, offer off-season deals in prime golf season. Throw in the strong exchange rate of the U.S. dollar vs. Canada's, and these are some of the best deals going. Finally, there are courses in areas subsidized by casino gambling, where greens fees, like meals and entertainment, are kept artificially low to lure bettors. In this case, Las Vegas is the exception, as a shortage of courses keeps prices high, but areas like Reno, Nevada, and the gulf coast of Alabama offer great golf bargains.
Because of the success of the first U.S. Open ever held on an affordable course, Torrey Pines (outside San Diego), another high-quality municipal course, was just selected as the 2008 Open venue. This is a great trend, but in both these cases, the difficulty of getting a tee time offsets the bargain-at Bethpage, for example, golfers have been known to sleep in their cars to get tee times for the next day.
Read further for information on North America's best (and most affordable) golf towns, schools, resorts and tours.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: It may be old hat, but Golf City, USA, remains the nation's perennial bargain destination, and things are even better these days. At last count, some 120 18-hole public layouts were competing for visitors (with more on the way), as were a formidable array of budget accommodations. Myrtle Beach, an established destination, is all about packages that offer a smorgasbord of golf and lodging choices for unbelievably low prices.
The second most heavily visited beach resort in America for persons traveling by car, Myrtle Beach in the '90s became a travel phenomenon, a destination for millions each year, some of them attracted by a growing number of country music theatres and other evening performance venues, and others by golf. Though the golfing here hasn't much "cachet," and you might not want to boast about the stay to your friends, it is certainly a center for affordable golf vacations, and totally unpretentious in atmosphere and facilities.
The big player is Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday (800/845-GOLF, golfholiday.com/), which offers a free and comprehensive handbook detailing every course, hotel, motel, and resort, along with package pricing. For more detailed information and hotel brochures, find the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce at myrtlebeachlive.com/.