The full original article was published in the 2019 Travel Guide edition of PGA Magazine.
It’s only natural for golfers to dream of the places they could go play one day. And we know some of those destinations almost by heart: Ireland and Scotland; the Monterey Peninsula; coastal Oregon; Florida and Arizona in the winter, and the upper Midwest and Northeastern regions of the U.S. in the summer, just to name a few.
Although those “bucket list” destinations can come with a decent price tag most of the time, not all hope is lost for those looking to find the sweet spot between location and value. There are plenty of ways that you can unearth some true gems throughout the golf travel landscape. The key? Finding a rotation of destinations that allow you to generate value at every turn, and ultimately lead you to creating memorable experiences.
PGA Professionals shared a few different strategies for creating itineraries that focus on moderately priced options. The first is to plan trips to destinations that are known to offer many options and strong value in terms of golf and accommodations.
For example, areas such as South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach area, New Jersey’s Atlantic City and the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula offer dozens of well-regarded resorts and daily fee courses that are geared toward group travel – often offering competitive stay-and-play packages that include extras such as breakfast and low replay pricing.
Another way to keep costs down on a golf getaway is to plan the trip around one round at a marquee course, with the balance of the trip and lodging at more affordable facilities. That could mean playing a round in Las Vegas before heading an hour north to the scenic — and more affordable — courses and resorts around Mesquite, Nevada, or adding the municipal Poppy Hills as an option to a Pebble Beach getaway. Likewise, visitors to either San Diego or Orange County could augment a Southern California golf getaway with a low-cost, high-character round at Carlsbad’s Goat Hill Park.
And, of course, look for destinations that can be reached within a day’s drive to devote more of your trip’s budget to golf and lodging. A centrally located resort with multiple courses — like Florida’s Mission Inn Resort & Club, or French Lick Resort in southern Indiana — can be the site of a quick drive-in golf trip that maximizes on-course time while keeping expenses in line.
Before determining your rota, though, make sure it aligns with who you’ll be taking on the trip.
“The first step in planning golf travel would be to identify your destination options that will appeal to your target travelers,” says Aaron Krueger, the PGA Director of Golf at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa. “I am very conscious of offering a rotation of trips that range in price and duration that will appeal to different members.”
By offering a mix of destinations, Krueger finds that more members become engaged in golf travel at his facility.
“Choosing different destinations with unique lengths of time and price points opens your traveler pool significantly, and allows you to reach more members as you plan travel,” adds Krueger, the 2017 Iowa PGA Golf Professional of the Year.
For Wakonda Club members, golf travel itineraries have ranged from driving one or two hours outside of Des Moines to multi-day road trips, and, every year or so, a bigger trip to Ireland or Scotland. Members are aware of the costs and time that come with an overseas trip, which is why Krueger and his staff also add smaller, regional travel plans to the calendar.
Within a three-hour radius of Wakonda Club, Kansas City and Quad Cities, Iowa, are both reachable, making overnight, two-round trips very feasible. One step further is a trip to Nebraska and the vastly underrated golf scene in the state’s Sand Hills region. The total travel time for Kreuger and members to Nebraska is nearly double than that of a Kansas City or Quad Cities trip, but the quality of the golf certainly makes it worth it.
On a 2015 trip, a Wakonda Club group played four rounds: two at The Prairie Club in Valentine, Nebraska, and then two at Dismal River — 90 minutes south — outside Mullen, Nebraska.
Both facilities have nationally-recognized courses and excellent lodging options to boot, making the trip’s value only increase as it progresses. Members are getting to play golf on great layouts, stay on-site, and aren’t even too far from home.
“Driving trips are easier to organize, typically shorter and cheaper and can open the traveler pool to more members,” says Krueger. “It’s obviously going to be a closer destination, so I’m much more likely to arrange the trip myself directly with the resorts.
“I also try to keep them under $500 for the short, single-night trips and under $2,000 for the multi-day driving trips.”
Krueger also has brought members to Pinehurst Resort, making sure to time the getaway right to get the most he can out of the trip. In a five-day trip, four days are dedicated to golf — members end up playing 108 holes total, including a trip around the vaunted No. 2 course, and stay at the famous Carolina Hotel. A bevy of amenities from breakfast buffets to unlimited use of the practice facility is also included, all for just over $1,500 per person.
The price point may be a little higher for a Pinehurst trip than a multi-day trip to Nebraska, but the idea remains the same: providing a rotation of options leads to the ultimate value for your customers or members.
One person that knows how to capitalize on value is Kevin McKinley, the PGA Director of Golf at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Michigan, and the 2017 Patriot Award recipient. He sees Northern Michigan golf as a destination that can rival anything in the world, and at a great price.
With a limited window during the year on when the five courses — four outstanding 18-hole layouts and the renowned “Threetops” par-3 track — are open, McKinley identifies when and where he can create value for guests seeking all different types of experiences at Treetops.
“We know when we’re busy, and we know when we’re not,” says McKinley. “That allows us to give different options to PGA Professionals and their guests who are looking to do anything from an overnight trip, to something longer. If they’re flexible, we will always have something that fits their needs.”
The staff at Treetops taps into a large database, Facebook page insights and much more to target how and when to promote the facility.
They’re also apart of two marketing co-ops, the Gaylord Golf Mecca and America’s Summer Golf Capital, that elevates the facility and its value as a destination.
“We’ve tried to hone in on what we can offer, when we can offer it, and what gets people in our doors,” says McKinley. “We’re always trying to find ways to add more value throughout the year, whether it’s including range balls at our practice facility — which is a great place to warmup — or a daily clinic every day at 2:30 p.m. We feel very strongly about all five courses, but those little add-ons here and there can make a big difference.”
In other words, courses are recognizing that golf travel comes in many different formats, and they’re ready and willing to help you as much as possible.
“When it comes to these value trips, we want to let you let go,” adds McKinley. “These are great opportunities to get to know your members or customers — folks that have an impact on your facility. We take a lot of pride in helping to plan out the details. Scorecards, golf car signs, tee prizes, itineraries, the list goes on. We’re there to provide value to you, the trip organizer.”
So, when diving into upcoming golf travel plans, don’t forget that some of the best destinations may be right under your nose. Sure, it’s not your typical overseas or cross-country trip, but when it comes down to it, golfers are looking for an experience more than anything. Value-based golf trips are your ticket to providing that experience.
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