By guest blogger Suzanne Rowan Kelleher
Love family vacations? Love golf? Bringing the two together has never been easier, as more hotels and resorts are wooing parents with excellent golf schools and family-minded packages. But how will you know if a resort’s family golf program is really as kid-friendly as promised?
You can tell a lot simply by reading the property’s brochure or web site, says Jerramy Hainline, director of instruction at the Hilton Golf Academy, whose three resorts welcome over 350 kids each year. Compare how the resort describes its junior golf instruction with how it portrays its adult offerings. “If there’s very little difference in how the classes are described, it’s more than likely that the resort hasn’t tailored anything for kids,” says Hainline. “If a resort or school truly wants kids there, it will have made accommodations to offer junior golfers a quality experience.”
What else should you look for? Here are 10 more clues that a resort will deliver a golf vacation that’s truly a family affair:
- On-course instruction. A no-brainer, right? Far from it. You’d be surprised at how often a kids’ golf “program” turns out to be a 90-minute etiquette lesson in a windowless conference room or an hour on a driving range plus a soda break. It’s critical that a program teaches kids how to play the game, not just how to drive a ball or putt. “Kids need to experience being on the course to bring it all together,” stresses Hainline. So if a resort’s junior program doesn’t feature any on-course time, it’s a deal breaker.
- Reduced green fees. Discounts for junior golfers or deals where “kids play free” with a paying adult demonstrate that a resort is serious about encouraging kids to play.
- Low student-instructor ratio. Class size for kids ages 6 to 17 should never exceed six kids per instructor, says Hainline. “And for 4- to 5-year-olds, the ratio should be closer to 2 to 1.”
- Inclusive instruction. Even preschoolers can learn the fundamentals of golf, including the basic rules of etiquette—whose turn it is to putt, where to stand, and that old bugaboo, when to be quiet. A family-friendly resort will have come up with ways for kids as young as 5 or 6 to participate in the game.
- Child-savvy pros. “You want instructors who have experience with the programs and a history of working with junior golfers,” says Eric Alpenfels, director of instruction at the Golf Academy at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. “I think five years of experience is a good start. Junior-golf certification programs vary from facility to facility.” If you can’t find this information on the resort’s web site, call and ask.
- Family-friendly tees. Most youngsters don’t have the skill and strength required to play a long course. To get kids in the game, many resorts now offer forward tees set at shorter distances. Having a variety of tees allows the family to play together, with Mom and Dad playing the long course and kids hitting from the forward tees. Some resorts even have special scorecards with more realistic pars for kids.
- Kid-size clubs. “Cut-offs” are adult clubs that have simply been shortened, resulting in a heavy head relative to shaft length. They’re better than nothing, says Hainline. But it’s preferable that a resort provide kids with junior clubs, which are scaled down appropriately from top to bottom.
- Big balls, little balls. Young kids are still working on eye-hand coordination. At the Hilton Golf Academy, junior golfers start off hitting beach balls. Once they’ve mastered those, it’s on to rubber balls, then tennis balls, and finally golf balls.
- Designated family time. Many resorts now offer special tee times reserved just for families. Pinehurst’s “Family Fairways” program goes one better, giving parents and their kids one course all to themselves for several hours each afternoon. “Family Fairways takes the intimidation factor out of play,” says Alpenfels. “You don’t need to worry about who’s behind you, or hitting in the middle of the fairway, or going straight to the putting green.”
- Non-golf kids’ activities. If family members have varying levels of skill and interest, it’s simply unrealistic to expect your whole clan to golf 24/7. Look for a swimming pool and other recreational activities to keep everyone happy. An on-site kids’ camp or babysitting service will add flexibility to your schedule.
Bio: Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is the Editor-in-Chief of WeJustGotBack.com, a family travel website with resort and hotel reviews, how-to articles, readers’ tips and recommendations, and planning advice for kid-friendly vacations.
Mancations? You heard it right. Gadling reported on a trend CNN recently wrote about, and one TripHub has known about for a while - guys getaways, apparently now also referred to as mancations. (Men, are you cool with this term? Sounds a little goofy to me, but then again girls getaway probably sounds equally as goofy.)
Groups of guys with old friends from high school and college (or just life) traveling together is a growing trend indeed, if nothing else, evident from hotels and resorts catering to men only groups with such testosterone-infused packages including things like:
- poker parties
- hand-rolled cigars
- buckets of beer
- sports tickets
- race car driving
- "man-friendly" spa treatments
Keeping in touch is important and doing so while traveling (away from the girls) is a way to bond in ways you can't do as a couple. I can vouch that my girls getaways (goofy as that trendy little name sounds for a vacation) are a God-send when it comes to staying connected to friends. Especially when you're increasingly busy post-college with work and life.
P.s., clearly, other bloggers think the term mancation is as ridiculous as I do. However, the concept is sound. Guys do travel together, label or no label.
Where do the expert golfers go? You know – the smooth swingers with enviable handicaps. Don’t we all long to tee off at a place of undisputed beauty and repute? And nothing’s better than sharing such a grand moment with friends.
Here’s a list of group-friendly golf meccas (listed alphabetically - who can rank these?) for you to plan a group golf get-away with friends and put your link lovin’ ways to practice.
The greater Phoenix and Scottsdale region is one of the biggest golf areas in the U.S. due to the combination of quality and quantity of golf courses, making it an ideal place for group golf travel. Plus, there’s plenty of après golf entertainment: shopping, nightlife, desert tours, a botanical desert garden, spas and more.
The Greater Phoenix visitors bureau boasts that their "courses deliver with playable, diverse designs and dedication to course maintenance, relaxed environments and professional customer service."
Scottsdale, a close neighbor to Phoenix, rivals (and may beat) its Southwest sister city in golf quality and quantity.
2. Hawaiian Islands
The Aloha State is a brilliantly natural spot for golf. With the sea as scenery (and course hazard) and a naturally hilly landscape to challenge any golfer, it’s no wonder Hawaii boasts so many glorious courses.
Other Hawaii golf courses to explore (all bookable on TripHub):
Maui's renowned Makena South Golf Course - One of the islands most prestigious courses in Hawaii has unobstructed views of the blue Pacific, neighboring islands, and humpback whales breaching during whale season.
Oahu’s famous Ko’olau Golf Course - Considered to be "The World's Most Challenging Golf Course" from the back tees, Ko'olau promises a memorable golf experience for golfers of all skill levels. Rated in Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses to Play" and named the "#1 Golf Course on Oahu" by Golf Digest.
3. Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, serves as a fairway haven to numerous golf courses. With the first course opening in 1961, and slowly building 20 more over the past few decades, Hilton Head has earned its title "The Golf Island," through careful craftsmanship.
Groups shouldn't have any complaints at Hilton Head, with numerous year-round tours, golf excellence, and sweeping Atlantic Ocean beauty. With a variety of accommodations, numerous restaurants, shops and services, Hilton Head seems built for groups, however small or large.
4. Myrtle Beach, SC
This self-proclaimed Seaside Golf Capital of the World lives up to its name with 100 golf courses laid out over undulating low country land and the majority of the Myrtle Beach golf courses being open to the public. Plus, many host professional and amateur tournaments. If you want a golf challenge and picturesque beauty, Myrtle Beach offers both with courses crafted by a host of world-renowned architects.
In 2002, the Myrtle Beach area was designated "Golf Destination of the Year" by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. This giant outdoor playground is also great for families. With 60 miles of beach, a plethora of courses and numerous accommodations (hotels, villas, etc.) you could also plan a family reunion here and incorporate golf into the mix.
See a directory of golf courses in Myrtle Beach.
5. Pebble Beach, CA
Four stunning courses make up the Pebble Beach Resort: Pebble Beach Golf Links, The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Del Monte Golf Course. They all either hug the Pacific coast or have spectacular views of the water. There are hotels and resorts close to the courses and in nearby seaside towns such as Monterey and Carmel.
At each course, a pro staffer offers individual and group instruction, clinics and group tournaments. Pebble Beach Resorts has this to brag about itself:
Pebble Beach Resorts, ranked the No. 1 golf resort in America by Golf Digest Magazine in 2004. Each of Pebble Beach Resorts' four courses offers a unique heritage, breathtaking beauty, and a once in a lifetime experience.
I’m an amateur golfer and haven’t (yet) golfed Pebble Beach, but I’ve cruised along its famous 17-Mile Drive. Brief but memorable, it’s a gorgeous way to drink in California’s rugged coastal beauty and stop for those classic vacation photo ops.
Birthplace of golf, motherland of the green, a trip to Scotland is not out of the cards if you’re a true golf believer. The classic that comes to mind is St. Andrews. Here you’ll find six golf courses all open to the public (as are the clubhouse and golf practice center), and all worth a visit for historic purposes, if anything else. Older than most other sports, golf got its start here 600 years ago.
There are many other glorious golf spots or courses for a group gathering. If you know of any you think others should discover, please post a comment and share your insight. Any questions? Just post it online and I’ll answer.
Now, here's a hassle-free way to go for a golf get-away, ski trip, or other active vacation.
Let your clubs, skis, board, kayak, bike or other sporting equipment get picked up (valet style) with Sports Express, now Luggage Forward, a new company that shuttles your gear (and luggage if you desire) between your front door and your vacation destination.
What a nice way to simplify the traveling process and offer peace of mind. Plus, you won't have to rent equipment once you arrive.
Here are some quick highlights of their service:
Luggage Forward may be able to take any size of equipment. You'll need to provide the dimensions to them first (either online or via phone). If the package is more than 150 pounds or if the length +(2 x width) +(2 x height) is greater than 130 inches, you won't be able to order the service online, but can call their 800 number.
They offer free insurance for $500 per item shipped.
They deliver mainly in the U.S., but also some international destinations such as Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Caribbean.
They use world-class courier service providers such as FedEx Express, UPS, and DHL.
Prices are not cheap - $125 to ship standard-sized golf clubs from Seattle to Honolulu. But if you're going on a personal golf (or ski or kayak) junket with pals and can spend a little extra cash on convenience, it seems like a great service.
For more information, visit Luggage Forward.