Leisure time is precious. For golfers, the prospect of an escape from the stresses and monotony of quotidian life to go somewhere and play a whole lot of golf prompts as much anxiety as it does excitement. It centers on the question that all travelers - golfer or not - ask themselves:
How can I get the most out of this vacation?
Obviously, this is an open-ended question, but die-hard golfers seem to answer it instinctively, by playing as much golf - on as many courses - as possible.
Makes sense. When I lived in the Myrtle Beach area, I would poll golfers on their trip itineraries, and pretty much every group I talked to was in the mode of playing a different course each round, sometimes traveling 30 minutes or more between courses on a 36-hole day.
While I'm not necessarily opposed to that type of trip, I'd like to propose an alternative.
Quality over quantity, intimacy over diversity
How about a golf trip where you get intimately acquainted with one or two courses, rather than giving four to six courses the hit-and-run treatment?
Here are four reasons why this might appeal to you:
How many times have you played a course, arrived at a particularly anticipated hole or stretch of holes and just played terribly? Nearly every time you play a course for the first time, you make mistakes that stem from pure unfamiliarity with the layout. Often it's something like hitting the wrong club off a tee, playing too aggressively on a sneakily dangerous hole or misreading a putt. You want revenge, but on a hit-and-run trip, you won't be able to get it until next time, or possibly never.
Playing a particular course multiple times enables you to exact revenge on a hole that blew up your scorecard the first time around, or gain a better understanding of a hole that confounded you. And if you're the type of golfer who likes to keep score, you can use your first round as a benchmark to surpass on your next.
One of the highlights of my year in golf last year was my visit to the Abaco Club on Winding Bay in the Bahamas. Part of what made me fall in love with the course was the opportunity to play it three consecutive days. That deepened my affection for the course in a couple ways. First, I got to see different hole locations each day, and on a course like the Abaco Club, where the greens are boldly contoured, some holes changed significantly from one day to the next. This was especially true at the 8th hole, whose huge, complicated green housed a classic "sucker pin" over a bunker one day, and a very inviting placement at the bottom of a slope another.
Second, the winds varied in strength and direction, such that a couple holes played much longer or shorter one day to the next. On a calm morning, the par-5 first hole was reachable in two shots, but the next day, I had to hit a pitching wedge for my third shot because of the wind blowing straight in.
If you play a course just once, you're at the mercy of the maintenance staff. A particular hole with a fascinating green might have a straightforward hole location, and you might wonder what fun you'd have had if it were in a different spot. Seeing a course in multiple setups can deepen your appreciation for it.
Home away from home
In addition to learning how to play a particular course, visiting multiple times in the same trip can help you get to know the facility in general, which includes the staff. Being seen around the pro shop on consecutive days or hanging out on the patio multiple afternoons or evenings after your round allows you to get a feel for the rhythms of a place, help the bartender dial in the mix of your favorite cocktail and generally start to feel like it's a home away from home, even if you're not a paying member.
Many courses want you to return for another round, often offering attractive replay rates. Usually, replay rates are for the same day, but some courses allow golfers to take advantage of that discounted rate within a window of several days. Kingsbarns Golf Links, near St. Andrews, knocks 50% off the rack rate for replay rounds, which can be used up to seven days after the first round.
The club at one of England's great links puts a competitive twist on this concept. 1909 and 1920 Open Championship host Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, also known as Deal, hosts "Deal Week" every August, a week-long parade of different events that both members and visitors can sign up for. There are medal play, match play, singles and pairs, men's and ladies events, and there are several visitors who hunker down in Deal for part or all of the week, playing in the events and getting to know the course. For 2018 Deal Week, visitors could purchase a temporary membership for the week - covering all tournament entry fees - for £275, which is less than twice the going single-round visitor green fee of £185. It's an incredible, ahem, deal.
Where to scale down your course rotation
Not every destination lends itself to this contrarian approach. But as food for thought, here are some courses I've played that I would recommend for multiple rounds on a trip:
Lahinch and Dooks - My first-ever trip to Ireland last summer was an eye-opening introduction to some great links golf. Of the five courses I played, the two that I found myself wanting to get to know were Lahinch and Dooks. It's not that I disliked the other courses - Doonbeg, Tralee and Killarney (Killeen). It's that the design, setting and overall vibe at Lahinch and Dooks were so enjoyable that if I could immerse myself in their auras for a few days each, my appreciation would deepen as I spent more time than a half-day or so at each before moving on.
Lawsonia Links - I played this Langford/Moreau masterpiece late one afternoon in August of 2016 after hurrying down the road from an early-morning round at Sand Valley. Walking the superb back nine during the Golden Hour was a highlight of my golf travels, so wonderful that I'd be sad to maybe only experience it once on a "proper" (i.e. non-scouting) golf trip. Lawsonia has a second course, the Woodlands, and while it looks pleasant enough, it's not much different from a hundred parkland layouts you've probably played. If you carve out a day (preferably two) in Green Lake, Wisconsin, go around the Links again and again and bask in one of America's purest public golf settings.
Caledonia and True Blue - As I mentioned above, Myrtle Beach's dozens-large menu of golf courses naturally widens the eyes of any visitor - How many courses can I play while in town? It's an exciting prospect to ponder, but even in Golftown, U.S.A., the answer may be as few as Two courses, over and over. That's how good Caledonia and True Blue are. Stylistically different but united in their bold shaping and strategic intrigue - driven by large greens where hole location dictates difficulty - they're ripe for a three-day, six-round exploration. Caledonia's par-3 third hole will probably play 40 yards different in length from day to day.
I know, I know - you're only allotted so much time for your golf indulgences, and playing as many courses as possible seems like a logical way to get the most out of a golf trip. Just give this alternative some thought; it might make for your best trip ever.