For many of us a golf trip to the USA offers the ultimate opportunity to experience the courses we see every week on television coverage from the PGA and LPGA Tours.
Immaculate layouts, luxurious clubhouses and impressive practice facilities are often of a much better standard than we would find in other parts of the world, especially the UK and Europe.
However, there are pitfalls in travel and booking to play on the courses where you want and when you want.
David Valentine is an experienced golf traveller in the US and passes on these hints and tips to fellow Golfmagic visitors wishing to keeps costs to a minimum.
I recommend booking a hotel for a night with companies such as www.hotelsir.com and when you arrive at your destination grab one of the local 'guide books' which will be stuffed with discount vouchers for accommodation and more.
When hiring a car I reckon it’s cheaper booking from the UK and none cheaper than www.vehiclebookers.com. If there are two of you with hard golf club travel cases and a couple of suitcases, be warned that they might not all fit in a 'Full-size' US saloon car (no such thing as 'regular-sized' when you're hiring). It’s better to get a Premium, Luxury or Sports Utility car.
I once used a UK agent when a group of us flew to Myrtle Beach some years back and they recommended one car for four people. It was insufficient for our needs .
Booking your golf
I recommend NOT booking your golf until you arrive though you may have order your tee times directly with a club in advance if you wish to travel at peak times. With the exception of Florida during February, March and April there are vast discounts to be obtained via the sports pages of the local US newspapers. And discount vouchers will be available in golf related give-away guides and via various US golf web sites. In the high season rates often quadruple.
E-bay is an excellent way to book tee times. My advice is to search on the US Ebay site for EZ tee time. With the exception of the high season your bid is likely to be uncontested! However, if you bid on US Ebay, make sure you set up a Paypal account and get your credit card billing address registered to your US address. Just 'phone them.
I’ve found that an American Express credit card is best because they seem to be the only UK card capable of putting your US address into the correct US format with a Zip Code.
When you arrive at the course
Whether it’s a country club or public golf course, the US service industry is second to none and staff are there to help.
Here are some tips to remember:
When you arrive follow the signs to Club Drop. Open your boot/trunk and an assistant will take your clubs out (and most likely clean them) and ask who will be driving the buggy. A tip of $1 per bag is recommended.
It’s unnecessary to take a change of clothes and shoes and head for the locker room. You'll look out of place in jacket and tie as virtually everyone goes into the eating and drinking area in their golf kit/shorts.
Most keep their headgear on too! All US clubhouses allow golf shoes to be worn at all times, though soft spikes are obligatory.
Always confirm your booking and pay in the pro shop then head for your buggy. However, make sure you are well insured. Reverse into someone or their vehicle and you could be looking at a six-figure settlement!
Most practice facilities are superb but balls are not always free. You’ll need tokens from the pro shop.
If you are a two-ball, and the starter hasn’t already fixed it, get teamed up with another pair. It helps make the pace of play almost tolerable. You're looking at 18 holes taking 4hrs 45 mins to 5hrs 30 mins, because American fourballs will rarely let through faster players!
On the course
Apart from the time it takes, there’s little difference to playing in the UK. However, American golfers, play very little matchplay so are unaware of the term ‘gimme’. Don’t give putts or expect them in return.
They also have a very ‘relaxed attitude’ to the Rules of Golf - even the ladies! They will surprise you by taking a ‘mulligan’ (a free replacement stroke) whenever it suits them. But don’t be surprised when they claim a par four (when you’ve counted at least 7) or they proudly claim a gross 76 when you know they’ve struggled to break 100!
When you play the locals remember, all bets are off. US handicaps are dangerous. They usually play to them, ‘mulligans’ notwithstanding!
Strangely the golf ball tends not to travel or run as far in the US perhaps because of the humid atmosphere and the lush grass. Take at least one club more than you think the distance dictates. And never expect approaches to bounce up to the green. Most greens are elevated with a lush apron. Shots played short of the green will usually stay there, which makes it particularly difficult for ladies.
Avoid looking for your ball in the scrub beyond the rough which flanks the fairways. Apart from 'Nature Conservation' notices, it’s a recipe for disaster – you’ll be bitten from head to toe by mosquitoes. Snakes and other nasty creatures can also lurk there.
As for alligators, don’t go near them. They move like lightning despite looking half asleep. They have been known to eat parts of golfers if you disturb them or venture too close. They also say, if one chases you run in zig-zags which tends slow them up!
When to play
After mid-day rates are cheaper, but beware - by 4 pm the mosquitoes get hungry. Most leave you alone if you wear suntan cream or insect repellent but don't bank on it! It’s also a good idea to wear some form or headgear, especially if you are follically challenged.
Expect to pause after nine holes while your US partners feed their faces.
Equip yourself with a drink in the bar to carry on the buggy. It gets hot out there and water in the on-course dispensers is not always very palatable though chilled. Some courses provide an ice box under the buggy seat.
However, if you get dry, most courses have a great-looking chick belting around with a refreshments cart but don't forget to tip her (approximately 15-20 per-cent of the product you purchase, depending on the quality of service).
The usual form is to drive the buggy to your car and return your clubs. However, at many courses you can return to the caddie-master area and your clubs will be unloaded, cleaned and returned to the Drop Off point where another $1 tip is appropriate.
There are few better places in the world to play golf on superbly kept courses. But follow my tips and it can be not only a pleasurable but cheap experience.
Tell us on the forum of your visits to play golf in the US – from which we can all gain some handy hints.
If your interested in golf abroad then take a look at our Travel Partners who specialise in golfing breaks to European and Worldwide destinations.