How to Choose a Golf Cruise

Let’s face it: Certain things and people tend to polarize us, force us into one of two camps. We either love them or hate them. I’m thinking of cats. And guns. I’m thinking of the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, of Rush Limbaugh and the Clintons, of modern art and cilantro, of sushi, exercise, and Tiger Woods.

Oh, and one other thing: cruises. It seems as if roughly half of us can think of nothing more blissful than the notion of several days aboard an enormous floating hotel while the other half see that prospect as the very cruelest form of torture. (If you’re one of the latter, you might want to stop reading right now.)

I love cruises; my wife hates them. Why, then, have we just returned from a sevenday voyage through the Caribbean that was entirely her idea? Because it was a “bridge cruise.” Libby loves bridge—I don’t. (I guess that’s another one of those polarizers.) In any case, we both had a fine time: She because her regular bridge partner came along and the two of them spent the week learning and practicing the fine points of duplicate bridge; I because I was left to fill my days doing what I do best—nothing. (That’s, in fact, what I love about cruises— the air of enforced indolence.)

Cruises such as ours—theme cruises— are becoming more popular than ever and have helped make cruising the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry. Last year, nearly 22 million people hopped aboard a vacation vessel of one kind or another, whether an ocean liner, sailboat, luxury yacht, or barge. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, in the past two years 29 new boats (with capacity for 34,000 travelers) were added to the global fleet of 410, with another 20 expected to start hitting the water this year.

But boater beware, some theme cruises are easier to pull off than others. For a bridge cruise, all you need is a good teacher and a few dozen decks of cards. A golf cruise is a bit more complicated.

Basically, you have two options: a cruise with golf as an add-on, or a dedicated golf cruise. Most of the major operators offer cruises with golf add-ons, typically on big boats that feature everything from puttputt courses to on-board lessons from PGA teaching pros to excursions to courses near the ports of call. You book the cruise, then pay an additional fee for the tee times and course shuttles. If golf is your priority, however, you should give these boats a wide berth. You’ll be sharing the voyage with a few thousand non-golfers, the course quality can be hit or miss, and the shore logistics generally are not handled by golf-savvy folks (picture yourself crammed into a non-air-conditioned taxi with three other guys on a twisting 45-minute joy ride).

An all-golf-all-the-time cruise is what you want, and here the options are much more limited. No one has a greater array of golf cruise options than Perry Golf, long the golf industry’s leader in high end vacations. Through alliances with four different cruise companies, they’re able to offer everything from a 686-passenger ocean liner to a luxury river barge that caters to just two foursomes. The big boat is headed for the Open Championship this year and, remarkably, it’s already sold out at $10,000 a head. But a similar trip to Troon is on Perry’s 2016 schedule along with a pair of golf cruises through Australasia and the Baltic Sea.

You can also climb aboard a 112-passenger mega-yacht to sample some of the best courses on the Iberian Peninsula, cruise the Mediterranean for seven nights and five rounds in a 64-passenger sailboat, or float down one of the rivers of France or Great Britain in a luxury barge, hopping off for golf between gourmet meals. Most of these trips are priced in the $4,000– 6,000 range, and the barges can be booked pretty much to suit your schedule.

At the high end of the cruising calculation is Kalos Golf, a company that has been doing golf cruises and only golf cruises for 20 years. No big boats here, just ultra-luxurious sailboats and yachts, none carrying more than a hundred or so well-heeled golf cruise enthusiasts. Their flagship, the Sea Cloud, is the largest four-mast ship ever built for passengers and was originally owned by heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and financier E.F. Hutton.

Kalos specializes in Europe—from the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Baltic seas to the British Isles, Iberian Peninsula, and Danube and Rhine rivers—but also cruises South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. A dozen trips are on the docket for 2015 including one that stops at St. Andrews for the Open Championship.

Kalos is pricey—even the lowliest accommodations on the most modest trip start at about $8,000 per person and that doesn’t include getting yourself to and from the boat. But everything else is included and it’s all first class, as is the service and attention to detail. Look at it this way, if you were to pitch up at Pebble Beach or Turnberry for 10 days of golf and the good life, the cost wouldn’t be much different.

If you’d prefer to stay a bit closer to home there’s Golf Ahoy, a packager that works with several of the major cruise lines to create something more than just a golf option and something less than an allout golf cruise, with particular expertise in Hawaii, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, as well as a deluxe 14-day cruise off California and Mexico that starts at Pebble Beach and ends at Torrey Pines.

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