Written By: Dave Wolfe

So you want to plan a golf trip.  On the surface, this seems like a simple task consisting merely of getting golfers together and going some place to play.  You blissfully embark on the planning, but soon realize that a whole lot more goes into planning a golf getaway than you first thought.

The planning ball was simple to get rolling, but then you quickly realized that this was not a little ball of a process, but rather a huge ball with the potential to crush you well before you and your newly snatched golden idol can escape the cave.

Don’t fret Professor Jones, even the most careful of plans can be improved with a bit of additional information, decreasing the likelihood that Short Round will eventually need to rescue you.

Digression aside, planning a golf trip can be complicated, but shouldn’t drive you away from your initial motivation for planning the trip: FUN!  You are planning a trip to play golf, not work golf, stress about golf, get pissed about golf, or wish you had never started playing golf.   Although planning and executing a successful golf adventure will involve significant effort, don't let it wreck the trip for you.  You can set up the exact trip that you want and still enjoy being a part of it.  All you need to do is Keep Calm and Follow these D’s.

 

The 5 D’s of Golf Trip Planning

1.  Dudes

Obviously, all of your golfers don’t have to be dudes.  Many of you dude-ettes out there beat the ball far better than I do.  Anyway, if you want to get a group of people to go on a group golf trip, you need to figure out who is going to be a part of that group.  Is this a trip for you and some buddies?  Would you classify the trip as open to all comers?  Are spouses invited? What about non-golfers?  Kids?
It’s obvious, but what will affect the success of your trip the most will be the people who attend.  We all enjoyed reading about the MGS forum members who made the trek to Vancouver for the 2013 MyGolfSpy Vancouver Open.  What made it fun to read about, and likely to attend, was the people who were there.  Most of the potential trip pitfalls (bad courses, bad food, intestinal distress, and etc.) can be overcome and ultimately ignored if the group is solid.

As this is your trip, you get to make the call.  I suggest you visualize how you want the days on and off the course to progress.  Are you looking for fierce competition, where the guy who shotguns a beer after a bogie would not be welcome?  Or, are you looking for a beer-a-hole trip where the teetotaler linkster would feel unwelcome?  Casual players or sticks?  Do you invite your buddy who is super fun off the course, but can’t play worth a lick?  Will your brother’s propensity for fourth hole nudity be OK with the rest of the group?  Well that one is not really OK with anyone, but watching him hit bunker shots in the buff is pretty funny...

Is this a small group trip, or a large one?  Is it a one-time golf adventure, or do you want this group of golfers to make the trip year after year.  It matters.  Most times, we can handle someone once, but knowing that an unwanted person now has the clout to come back each year could undermine the fun of the whole trip.  Remember, though it may not start with D, what we are looking for from this trip is FUN!

 

2.  Dates

Dudes and dates really need to mesh for the trip to happen.  You may first select the dates and then see who can attend, or instead, get the dudes and then figure out the dates.  Regardless, selecting the dates for the trip will likely be the most complicated part of the process.  Successful trip dates will somehow dodge graduations, weddings, births, deaths, circumcisions, home remodels, and that ever-present annoyance, work.

The probability of successful date selection is inversely proportional to the number of people going on the trip.  You may be inclined to try and meet the scheduling needs of everyone, but that will probably prove impossible.  I suggest that you get some group availability information and then propose a tentative date, adjusting if it proves undoable for the majority of players.  Once you establish the trip as an annual occurrence, scheduling should prove easier as people will work diligently to adjust their schedules so that they can attend.

There are some other things to consider about the dates of the trip though.  Are you traveling in high season?  That can impact the price of the trip and also the availability of tee times and lodging.  Coupled with that is the weather present during your trip time.

There is a lot of great golf in Scottsdale, AZ, but your experience on the course will be very different if you schedule your trip for beautiful March or hell-esque July.  Dates also come into play if you are looking for non-golf entertainment and activities.  Take that Scottsdale destination as an example.  If you travel there in March, you can play golf in the morning and then catch some pre-season Cactus League MLB games.

In July, there is no baseball, only scorching emptiness on the diamond.  The best thing to do though is to be patient and flexible.  Think about how it can be a struggle to get four guys together to play golf any given week.  Expect that date planning for a larger trip with more people will be that struggle, and then some.

 

3.  Destination

So my novice planner, you have your dudes and your dates.  That’s great!  But where are you going to go?  We all have our list of “want to play sometime” courses, but many of those, like the Old Course at St. Andrews, are not necessary ideal locations for buddy trips.  So how do you decide where to go?  Although this article is all about the 5 D’s, destination planning really comes down to three P’s:  Price, Players, and Plan.

Price

We have all imagined our ultimate golf vacation.  Is it St. Andrews?  Pebble Beach? Kapalua?  All three of those destinations have the deep-pocket requirement.  If your group is all about taking the Lear to play fancy golf courses for the weekend, this article may not be for you.

Feel free to tell your minion to stop reading it for you.

For the rest of us, price is a huge deal.  A trip that can’t be afforded can’t be attended, period. For example, one of our forum members, John Barry, runs an annual trip to Myrtle Beach that looks like a blast.  I would love to tag along, but the cost to get there from my California home is prohibitive.  We all know that travel costs get expensive in a hurry.

The price to stay can also quickly get very expensive.  Let’s say that you are looking at a long weekend trip.  That’s two, maybe three, nights in a hotel.  Flea bags motels with dead hookers under the bed aside, lodging costs will likely set you back a good chunk of coin each night.  This must be taken into account when thinking about where to play.  I would love to play Pebble Beach someday, but the high price of lodging at the Pebble Beach resort, or in the equally costly adjacent Carmel, CA can rapidly dwarf the significant greens fee at the course.

And speaking of greens fees...

Are you looking to play bucket-list courses all week at $200+ a pop?  Is this trip more about the people and the course is almost secondary?  How much you pay for golf will, of course, depend upon how much golf you want to play and where that golf is going to be played.  Ideally, you can strike a balance between quantity and quality of golf.

One of the greatest things that you can uncover in your searches is the Stay-and-Play package.  A quick Internet session will uncover numerous deals where you pay for the hotel room and then play unlimited or discounted golf at the adjacent course.  Obviously, locking yourself into such a deal can limit your golf experience, but this option is a true winner if it includes quality lodging and links.  Spend a little time searching online, and you will find some amazing deals out there.

For example, Golfspy Tim and myself just spent a few days staying and playing at the Running Y Ranch GC in Klamath Falls, OR.  They are running a special that includes two days of unlimited golf and a hotel room for $159 per night!  It's a Golf Digest Top 100 course that's designed my Arnold Palmer.  Having stayed and played there, I'll tell you it's a smoking deal.  Tim and I will have a full report from our Running Y Ranch adventure in the near future.

Players

The players attending should definitely influence your destination choice.  Once again, it really comes down to what trip are you trying to put together.  Is this a tight buddy trip where you want to check off the elite courses on the Monterey peninsula?  Instead, is this about the people getting together, enjoying each other’s company, with golf being the chosen activity for interaction.  My suggestion is to simply pick a place that will be fun for your golfers.

If you are all scratch players (studs!), then you will probably need to pick a destination that has courses that will provide you with enjoyable challenge.  These same tough tracks though could invoke a lost-ball nightmare for the average player.  As a double-digit guy myself, I can appreciate the challenge presented by some courses, but my enjoyment of play rapidly evaporates when that challenge punches me in the gut over and over again.  In other words, not everyone will walk away from a TPC-type course with positive memories.

On the other hand, this guy likely won't enjoy your local muni or appreciate repeated use of the foot wedge.

 

Plan

The Plan is actually the most complex of the destination components.  We are talking about all of the on course and off course activities that you want the trip to include.  If this trip is all about golf, then it comes down to the simple questions of Is there enough variety in the courses here?

If you goal is to play 36/day for four days, you will want a destination that won’t leave you bored after the front nine.  Is there a facility with multiple tracks?  Are there multiple courses in the same area?  Is it OK with your group to re-round on the same course in the afternoon?

The golf plan is likely the central facet of your trip, and as such, it needs to be planned correctly.  As the designer of this trip, you can choose to plan the golf by decree or committee.  However you plan it though, get it right.

The other component of The Plan is your non-golf time.  If you are not planning on a schedule of breakfast->TONS OF GOLF->bed, then what are the plans away from the course?  Do you want the group to have access to nice restaurants in the evening?  Are you thinking trout fishing in the AM, followed by afternoon golf?  Will your last beer of the night occur simultaneously with your first beer of the morning?  The destination will dictate what is possible.

 

4.  Dynamics

How do you want your trip to play out, both on and off the course?  Dynamics is a broad term that really takes into account all of the occurrences that will be going on during the trip and overlaps quite a bit with The Plan.  The trip dynamic includes the mundane topics such as transportation, who is bunking with who, food options, and such.  Planning out the trip dynamics is critical though if you want to actually see the trip that you are planning manifest correctly.  The trip Dynamics component definitely overlaps with the Dudes and Destination categories.  The people making the trip and the location of the trip will largely influence the dynamics.

Daily Dynamics

Do yourself a favor and set a daily schedule before the trip.  Set arrival times, tee times, dinner reservations, and whatever else you can before the trip happens.  Part of the motivation for this detailed scheduling is that by presenting a schedule to the attendees, you take the pressure off of yourself to be the group leader.

The schedule lets your group know what is happening, and when, thus removing the need for you to tell them what’s happening next.  Hopefully this takes enough responsibility off of your plate that you can actually enjoy the trip.  Make the schedule, even if you are making the trip with a bunch of mellow dudes who are “open to whatever”.  Think about this, if you don’t make tee times, you may not be playing golf.  Set up as much as you can beforehand.  Your blood pressure will thank you for it.

The Daily Dynamics planning also includes the golf vs. “other activities” scheduling.  Maybe your plan is to go fishing in the AM, and then golf in the afternoon.  If so, then set the plan accordingly.  Once again it comes down to who is going on the trip and what do they want to do.  It could be a sunlight=golfing type trip that some yearn for.  Others would be very satisfied playing golf in the morning, with the afternoon then spent lounging by a pool with a tasty adult soda.  Think about this, some of the best memories from a golf trip may in fact be the ones that come from spending time with your friends off of the course.

 

Golf Dynamics

This is a golf trip, but what kind of golf are you looking for?  Casual golf?  Competitive golf?  Handicaps or not?  Betting?  Games?  Golf Potpourri for $500 Alex?

Whatever you choose to do, again, be sure you set it up ahead of time, but remain flexible enough to change the plan if it goes sideways once you are in the middle of it.  Creating the successful Golf Dynamics will rely heavily on the other aspects of your trip, more so than any one other factor.  Think about how group scoring changes if your group consists of single-digit players who have known each other for years as compared to a bunch of loosely connected players whose abilities on the course run the gambit between awesome and awful.

Ultimately, as the planner, you get to decide how the golf gets played and scored.  I suggest that your edict be empathetic, lest your trip be pathetic.  High cappers playing straight golf for big dollars are not going to have fun, nor are your low cappers going to appreciate donating dollars to the sandbaggers.  Just remember that people play golf for many reasons.  Let’s use this shot of the 7th at Pebble Beach as an example:

How will your group approach this hole?  Will they think:

A: Holy crap!  I’m playing Pebble Beach!  Look at this ocean view!

B: 98 yards downhill.  Who comes up with this garbage?  How will I make birdie to win the skin.

C: Whoa this hole is short! I had better shotgun this one if I’m going to keep my beer-a-hole pace.

 

I mentioned this before, but I really believe that hard tracks punish the novice golfer more than the accomplished one.  Let me explain.

A course that has safe areas to miss around the greens is much more playable for the novice than angular greens moated in sand and water.  The good player should be hitting the green, while the novice misses then recovers.  Not even a score adjusted for handicap can make losing money after hours in the sand palatable for that novice.  Your friends taking your money while the track takes your lunch is not a fun combination, and could in fact prove to be fun-fatal for the golf part of the trip.

Don’t stress though grasshopper, as the big cheese, you also have the chance to make the trip fun-tastic in other ways!  Search the Internet for different games to play on the course.  Mix it up.  New ways to play and keep score can spice up the round even if the players have been playing together for years, or if it is the third time through a track that day.  Maybe day one is singles handicap play, with day two being nothing but games of wolf.

Just Google golf games and you can find all kinds of different options.  If you want, you can even make up a game just for the trip.  Here are the rough details of a game I call The Bag.

 

The Bag

The Bag is a simple game that modifies the parameters of the traditional golf game.   To play this game, you will need the following:

The bag/chip relationship should be obvious; you put the chips in the bag.  The majesty of this game actually comes from creativity of The List.  Whoever is the Keeper of The Bag is responsible for generating the twenty rules alterations found on The List.

At the beginning of the round, each player draws a chip and looks up his or her number on The List.  They then play the round of golf under the flag of this new rule.

What are these rules?

That’s up to the Keeper of the Bag.  You get to decide.  You can tailor The List to your group, or make it more general.  The new rules can be helpful, hurtful, silly, or anything else you come up with.  Here are some examples:

  • You score bogey on all Par 3 holes.
  • Play only odd numbered clubs on odd numbered holes.
  • Swap your drive with another players once per side.
  • Quiz the cart girl about physics to change your high hole to a par.
  • Perform a song and dance on a Par 3 to play it from the front tee.
  • One putt per side is an auto-make.
  • Play a hole one tee back to play the next one tee forward.
  • You always putt/tee off first.
  • Trade rule chips with someone, making him draw another from The Bag

You can quickly come up with a whole bunch of rules for The Bag.  They don’t need to be in good taste, but you should probably stick to things that will keep you from getting kicked off the course and/or arrested.

You can also make up additional general rules for the game.  You could let someone buy a different/additional chip for $5, have everyone draw a new chip at the turn, have the overall winner take the cash from The Bag, and so on.  The only rule that I tend to stick to is that whoever “loses” gets to take The Bag home and develop The List for the next round.  How you define “losing” is up to you.

 

5.  Did it work?

Reflection is the cornerstone of improvement.  Feel free to borrow that for the next commencement address you give.

Anyone who plans on improving at anything must include objective reflection in the process.  What worked and should be saved?  What didn’t and should be discarded, yet remembered?

Was the Nude Golf=Par The Hole rule from The Bag a bit over the top for your mom’s play group?  Lesson learned.

Your next golf adventure should always be better planned and more enjoyable than its predecessors, and it will be, as long as you take the time to reflect.  Listen to your Dudes.  What did they like?  What could be improved?  Were the rates of the chosen course great, but the conditions as playable as a Target parking lot?

Do you want to stay in a place with electricity next year, or in a town with less nightlife so you can actually make morning tee times?  Should morning tee times be avoided all together?  Nurture your trip.  Encourage it to grow and improve, but don’t be afraid of swatting it on the nose with a newspaper here and there should it prove rambunctious.

If you were not happy with the lodging this year, remember that so you don't accidentally stay there again next year.

Just Do It

There I go, quoting Nike.  You see though, that is the real key component for a successful trip.  Just do it.

Maybe you initially planned on four people for three days, and now it is twenty people for two days, or two people for a week.  It doesn’t matter.  Just come up with your best plan and run with it.  Odds are, you will have overlooked something, but you will likely have a great time, regardless of the details.  Then when you have one trip in the books, you can begin planning the next one, capitalizing on the knowledge gained from the initial trip to make the next one better.  With a little planning, and maybe more than a little effort, you can make something special with the potential to be an event that many people look forward to year after year.  Just mind your D’s.