Before you scurry off to the airport with a penciled itinerary in your pocket and a pair of natty plus-fours trailing out of your suitcase, here are 10 travel tips from an old pro who has made every mistake in the book. My tips are gleaned from years of trial-and-error. Also, while working for trade magazines covering the travel industry years ago, I joined several “fam” (familiarization) trips with in-the-know travel agents who instructed me in the art and science of travel. The distilled wealth of my dear-bought experience follows.
Put it on wheels: For years I lugged around a hanging garment organizer with expandable compartments that would weigh 60 pounds or more by the end of a week-long golf trip, give or take a pewter chalice. No more. Let the wheels, not your arms and shoulders (which you’ll need for golf), do the work. It’s true for luggage, and it’s just as true for your golf bag. Invest in a durable travel cover with wheels. Club Glove Last Bag, the choice of most PGA Tour pros, has in-line skate wheels and a plastic sled that offers excellent protection. Other top travel cover brands include Sun Mountain, Titleist, Bag Boy, Nike, and Ogio. All roll nicely and have plenty of room for balls, shoes, and laundry.
Packing your clothes: The old rule of thumb was to lay out an intended wardrobe on your bed, divide the pile in half, and pack one or the other. In fact, it’s best to select the most versatile apparel from each pile, i.e., the clothes you can wear more than once. Fold several items onto each hangar, layering with plastic cleaner’s bags, so that the clothing cushions itself and arrives relatively unwrinkled. Always pack what you need to survive for 24 hours in a carry-on bag in the event your luggage gets misplaced.
Footwear: NEVER take a new pair of golf shoes on a golf trip. Short of leaving your passport on your dresser, it’s the biggest no-no imaginable. I can’t think of a more miserable way to spend a golf trip than nursing a pair of sore doggies for the duration. Break ‘em in before you go. That goes for the new spikeless models, too. They may be more pliable than the all-leather Foot-Joy Classics of yore, but they still need a break-in period for total comfort. Be sure to pack extra socks, too. Don’t play 36 holes in the same pair. Otherwise, blisters.
Travel agents: Sure, you can surf the web seeking travel bargains, but I believe a good travel agent is worth his (or her) weight in gold, even in the internet age. Here’s why: If you’re shopping value, a good agent can instantly search dozens of air and hotel booking engines, relieving you of the tedium of hopping from one website to the next. An experienced agent who knows what you want and values your business will bend over backwards to get you room upgrades, preferred tee times, fresh flowers on arrival—you name it. And if something goes wrong, your travel agent is your personal ombudsman.
Check the weather: Rain and golf don’t go together, at least not on a stateside vacation. If you’re booking last minute, check The Weather Channel’s site, weather.com/golf. The 10-day forecast for individual courses features temperature range, chance of rain (%), humidity rating, wind speed and direction, golf playability index (0 = poor, 10 = excellent), even a local pollen alert. Heading overseas? Don’t put too much credence in a dire forecast for Scotland or Ireland. Rain or clouds are forecast every single day, every day of the year across the pond. Note: the British and Irish draw a distinction between showers, which are usually brief and passing; and rain, which can be heavy and will confine you to the indoors, i.e., a pub.
Weekdays, not weekends: Why? Discounted green fees, for starters, but also less crowded courses, which translates to fewer logjams and faster, more enjoyable rounds. Monday through Wednesday is best. Thursday is nearly as good. Fridays are in demand and now command a weekend rate at most resort and daily-fee courses. Bargain hunters can also check out same-day replay rates and twilight fees in summer.
Foreign cuisine: When in doubt about sampling an exotic dish of unknown provenance, do yourself a favor: Pass it up. I’ve been stricken with gastrointestinal infections on four continents, and I can assure you, no culinary delight, no matter how delicious-looking or innocent-appearing, is worth having the equivalent of dueling swordsmen in your stomach. Be prudent. Remember, you can’t swing a golf club if you’re doubled over.
Hire a caddie: Golf is a gentleman’s (and gentlewoman’s) game, especially with a seasoned looper at your side. A good caddie can provide something that seems paradoxical in an individual sport like golf—a sense of teamwork. This is especially true on the links of Scotland and Ireland, where local caddies add immeasurably to the experience. Besides, how many GPS monitors can help you read a green? If carts are mandatory, which is often the case at U.S. resorts, hire a forecaddie to birddog your shots and provide local knowledge.
Conquering jet lag: Globetrotter Gary Player wrote the book on hitting the ground running, regardless of time zone. Here’s his short list: Exercise vigorously on day of departure so you’re tired and can sleep on the plane. Eat lightly during the flight and drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. Set your watch to local time, and spend as much time as you can outside once you arrive.
Don’t be afraid to ask…for anything: Hey, it never hurts to ask. The worst they can say is, “No.’ Go ahead. Request an upgrade—to a seat in business class, to a larger room with a better view, to a better table in a restaurant. Do it graciously, with a smile. You’d be surprised how often a hospitality professional will oblige you.