Buddy Golf Trips – The Stuff Of Legends
By Steven Pease
I’ve spent countless hours over the last seven years planning my annual buddies golf trip, and the one thing I’ve learned is to keep it simple.
Buddy golf trips are the stuff of legends. And despite the economic downturn in recent years, they’re still alive and well. Dana Garney, CEO of Troon Golf, a premier golf course company managing top courses, was interviewed at the 2015 PGA Show. Garney said that buddy golf trips are “moving in a positive direction”, and his resort golf company is seeing groups of 15-20 happening a lot more today than in 2008. In addition to buddy trips, ladies trips and family trips with a golf focus aren’t out of the ordinary today, Garney says.
Depending on your cup of tea, a buddy golf trip is where new dads can shotgun parking lot beers like a 19-year-old fraternity pledge, or where the golf purists and competitors of the group temper their consumption and enjoy the communal benefits of unplugging, and enjoying the great outdoors while shooting low scores.
Either way, it can be the best of tee times, or the worst of tee times.
Here are 9 things you’ll need to ensure your next buddy golf trip is an epic one.
- Short, Bi-weekly Communication. The toughest part about planning the trip isn’t the travel, or the booking, it’s the emails. If you’re doing it right, you only send a couple dozen over the course of 6-8 months. If you’re doing it wrong, that number will be in the hundreds. Communication is key, but it’s difficult to get 5-50 guys on the same wavelength when it comes to where to stay, play and par-tay. In the end, you can’t please everyone. So majority rules.
- Buy-in. Keep it cheap. If you can afford the trip to Vegas and play Shadow Creek, good for you. If you’re a purist and need to feel the sea breeze on your ruddy cheek as you play your 36th hole of the day, opt for the pinnacle of buddy golf trips – the fine resort courses at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. But if you’re like the majority of duffers looking to go on a local buddy golf trip, $500 might be a good starting point. Put that number out there and you’ll quickly separate the buyers from the liars. For $500, you can probably find a solid stay-and-play deal within a few hours of your home without having to get on a flight. Pro tip: You might just find a great deal within these pages! Or, you could go old school and phone the local pro. But your best bet might be starting at GolfNow for local tracks, or GolfTrips.com if you’re looking to make it a true roadtrip.
- Good Tunes = Good Times. Minnesota has no shortage of perfect buddy golf trip destinations. My personal favorite was the summer of 2011. A good friend of mine managed to get his 1978 Winnebago – affectionately known as “The Turd” – up and running. I eBay’d some 8-track tapes (just the classics – Stones, Zeppelin, Willie Nelson), and perhaps the greatest four-man buddy golf trip in Minnesota history ensued over three days from Minneapolis to Superior National in Lutsen. We bumped hip-hop, reggae and classic rock on the nearly isolated course, depending on our mood. We cooked our dinner over a campfire and I slept in a 6×3 top bunk, quickly nodding off each night to the soothing sounds of Kenny Loggins’ Caddyshack theme “I’m Alright” on the portable DVD player. And now that song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
- Keep It Small, Simple, Local. Jason Kauflin has been organizing his “Kauflin Invitational” – an annual buddy golf trip to Las Vegas for the last 15 years. His eponymous tournament’s attendance started with 4 and now hovers around 42. His advice: Go out of your way to take care of the travel and lodging booking, and invite close friends who show up for tee times, have decent clubs, and don’t get drunk on course. “Having the right 4 or 8 guys is the key to getting a trip off the ground. The last thing you want is to go with 8 golfers and have two of them be total knobs. No fun,” Kauflin says.
- Pick A Package Somewhere That Makes Sense. According to Kauflin, flying somewhere is not the best way to start. “Maybe you pick a weekend (at a course) within driving distance that is easy to sell to the wives, and makes it easier to get commitments from your buddies.” You basically can’t go wrong booking Scottsdale or Florida in the winter. But before the spring thaw, southern Kansas and Missouri are options within a day’s drive of the Twin Cities. (I’m not advocating for those courses, but if you really need to hit the links in February, and you’re on a budget, it’s something to consider.) If you opt to hit the links in the North Star state, Biwabik / The Wilderness Fortune Bay is to be considered. It’s home to the so-called “coolest casino in Minnesota”. The golf value is hard to beat, and there are plenty of cheaper courses to hit along the way. Across the border, Wisconsin is home to the Kohler courses (Whistling Straits, The Irish, Blackwolf Run and The Meadows), which can – and probably should – be booked a year in advance, if for no other reason than to save up for the greens fees. And before booking the tee time, consider what’s most important to your group. Garney said that in the 35-45 age bracket, the most important factor in booking a buddy golf trip is who they play with, focusing on the experience, the music and the fun factor. While those 45-55 usually book because of the course and course conditions.
- Have Alternatives To Golf. If gambling’s your thing, the Las Vegas metro is a no-brainer. Vegas offers great stay and play deals from Mesquite to Sin City, but there are local tracks within driving distance that can more than suffice. Spas are an obvious attraction if you’re attending your buddy trip with your significant other. The American Club in Kohler offers a world-class spa – allowing you to catch an early tee time while the non-golfing attendees can bask in the sauna before meeting up for a late lunch. The younger subset would probably appreciate the all-inclusiveness of an open bar. In that case, Los Cabos or Cancun might be worth a Google.
- Good Food. Kansas City and Austin have delectable barbecue. Off the beaten path of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is some amazing Southern seafood. Charleston’s fairways and greens are second only to its surf and turf options. And southern California does just about everything right. In short: Don’t be afraid to spend a buck on good food. Step outside the bun and beyond day-old dogs at the turn. Or Subway, Five Guys or Jimmy John’s. You’ve been smart – booking an affordable, off-season deal. So why not splurge on the one thing that will keep you going? Beyond local knowledge, the Yelp app should give you a good idea of where to go before hand. Yes, some courses have amazing grills, but for my money a night out on the town during a buddy golf trip just isn’t complete if you can’t sit down with some great friends over a steak the size of your head.
- “The best advice for getting and keeping guys on a trip? Find decently priced golf, and super reliable transportation,” Kauflin says. “Nothing is more annoying than putting in a lot of effort to go on a trip, then playing a goat field golf course, or (even worse) not having the bus show up day one and being late to golf.” Adding to that, I’d say spacing out rounds is key. If you’re going to play 36 holes or more in a day, stay on one course. Breaking the land speed record to get from one suburb to the next isn’t fun and, depending on who’s driving, can be risky from both a driver’s safety and public safety standpoint.
- Return As Mr. / Mrs. Perfect. “When you get back from that long weekend, you SELL THE HELL out of how much fun you had to anyone that will listen to you, especially your wife,” Kauflin says. “Go above and beyond the next week… doing whatever you normally don’t do. Clean the house, make dinners, whatever. One big key is letting her think that it was HER idea to suggest doing it again because of how much fun it was and how positive you were when you got home.”
Truer words. Have fun. Be organized. Find a deal. And splurge on a steak.