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
Rack rates for Primm packages are $80 per person, per night in the off-season (June to October) and $125-155 in peak season, but specials are often available. Second-round replays are also discounted to as low as $50 in summer. You can often add room and a round on both excellent courses for about $100 a day.
Bear Trace/Tennessee Golf Trail, Tennessee: To compete with Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs, Tennessee went to Jack Nicklaus, the most famous golfer in history, now a world-class course designer. Nicklaus offers several "brands" of courses, and the more a developer spends, the more of Nicklaus's hands-on input he gets. The most prestigious level is the Jack Nicklaus Signature course, which adds $1 million to the tab. These are typically found at private, high-end country clubs and at a handful of luxury resorts such as the Four Seasons chain, and playing them will usually set you back over $200 a round.
But in Tennessee, Nicklaus reduced his million-dollar fee and built five excellent courses across the state. Each Bear Trace (866/770-2327, beartrace.com/) destination is unique, built to fit its surroundings, allowing the traveling golfer to experience variety along the way. There are two major booking agencies that offer custom packages along the trail, combining rounds at one or more courses with a choice of nearby lodging: Tucker Golf (888/826-1714, tuckergolf.com/) and Fairways Golf Travel (fairwaysgolftravel.com/). Golf rates start at $39 for Mondays and Tuesdays, $49 for Wednesdays and Thursdays, and $59 for Fridays through Sunday.
But the Bear Trace is not the only golf to be found in Tennessee's state parks. Five of its parks, also located across the state, contain 18-hole courses and resort hotels. In order to keep up with the "trail" phenomenon (in which golfers travel from course to course in a particular region), these five have been rebranded the Tennessee Golf Trail (866/836-6757, tnstateparks.com/), and since the parks department owns both the courses and the hotels, packages are simple and cheap. Flat rates are $45 per person, per day off-season, and $56 (weekday) or $65 (weekend) high season, including double-occupancy lodging and unlimited golf (including cart for the first 18 holes, after which the cart is additional). Especially on weekdays, when smaller crowds allow you to play 36 holes, it's an unbeatable deal.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Alabama: Over ten years ago, the state of Alabama looked at various options to increase both tourism and the state's status as a retirement destination. Studies concluded the solution was golf, golf, and more golf, all of it bargain priced. In perhaps the most ambitious golf infrastructure project of all time, Alabama commissioned acclaimed golf course designer Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who planned seven different facilities with a total of 324 holes, spread throughout the state. That is equal to eighteen 18-hole courses.
The facilities were designed to be convenient for motorists, so that no complex is far from an interstate highway or more than two hours from another facility. The name "golf trail" is taken seriously, and golfers can combine two, three, or more trail stops in a bargain-priced driving tour. Courses extend from the Gulf Coast to Tennessee, west to Mississippi and east to Georgia. Two more courses were later added, for even more holes of golf. Save one, each stop has either three full-size nine-hole layouts and a nine-hole par-three course (36 holes), or else two full-size eighteens and an eighteen-hole short course (54 holes). Unlike pitch and putt, these consist of true par-three holes like one would encounter on any course, with island greens and holes stretching over 200 yards.
Pricing is confusing, as there are separate greens fees for different complexes, varying by month or season, creating dozens of different prices. However, they are almost all bargains. The maximum rate, at the priciest facility in high season (April, May, June) is $7. The lowest high-season rate is $37. June through September, the rates range from $37-$75. Additional rounds on the same day are half price most of the year, but summer (June-August) rates include unlimited play. All the par-three courses cost just $15 for 18 holes, a great option for families with young golfers.
Lodging along the trail is inexpensive, and the courses are surrounded by the likes of La Quinta, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, and many independent properties, whose rural locations and low rates reflect the same seasonality as the golf courses. Most include breakfast, and inexpensive dining abounds.