By personality type I’m a certified, Type-A planner. That extends to golf travel, where I prefer to be driving the bus, so to speak, rather than riding along passively at the back.
I learned this back in the early 1990s when I gave in to a well-meaning, but overly ambitious marketing rep for golf in Northern Michigan who took me on a five-day trip to see 26 courses. Throughout the whirlwind I was variously furious, numb and overwhelmed. The upshot came when we saw two courses on the way to an Alister MacKenzie-Perry Maxwell gem, Crystal Downs Golf Club, where we teed off at 1 PM, then drove an hour back to Traverse City to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear at Grand Traverse Resort. This being early July, we still had time for dinner in fading daylight.
Flash forward to 2011, when on a professionally-organized bus tour through Northern Ireland and the West of Ireland, 24 of us endured rounds over 11 different courses in eight days while staying in five different hotels. It didn’t help that we all met in Dublin Airport in the morning after overnight flights, jumped on a bus for a three hour ride to Enniscrone and played that and the next two days through a steel-pellet rainstorm.
Between the weather and the bars, we never dried out. Which leads me to the first of several rules.
There’s such a thing as "too much golf"
Too many groups run themselves ragged with overstuffed itineraries that include 36 holes a day and requires transport in between. Golf is fun. A forced march is not. Plan accordingly. Don't organize competitive golf for the first day you arrive. Let folks opt in or out on their own. The occasional, organized 36-hole is day is fine if played at the same or an adjoining property, but you’ll have more fun, get more out of the experience and feel more relaxed if the second round is a different format, ideally at the same facility. Play a two-man better ball in the morning, break for a relaxed lunch and play alternate shot that afternoon.
Create diverse formats for competition
Stroke play at Arcadia Bluffs may chew up your group's high handicappers. Choose a format that's fun for all.
A surefire way to exhaust your group is to line up round after round of competitive stroke play. Every group has a certain dispersion of talent, and if you insist on such a format for your trip you’ll end up narrowing the participants by virtue of self-selection. Differ the formats. Include net and gross. Two-person better ball takes a lot of pressure off of people and still allows everyone to have fun. The same with alternate shot – ideal for the day’s second round, as is a two- or four-person scramble.
As per @JayRevell:
For Streamsong, we will do three 18 hole competitions, a putting competition, and a shootout on the bye hole. If our destination has a short course, we always do a session there also. We award points and cash for every player in each session. Player with the most points at the end wins it all. Lots of variety, multiple chances to win, great competition and camaraderie.
Schedule some slack time
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional open space on a schedule so that some folks can play tourist, others can sleep while some simply head out to pound more golf balls. That works well at multi-course facility like Bandon Dunes, where some people can’t get enough golf and others would prefer to tour the town or take a hike through the dunes.
And when you're traipsing through Scotland, there are going to be some people who want to divert around Loch Ness or Culloden Battlefield instead of playing Castle Stuart a second time. Even when you're traveling by bus, the availability of Uber gives the occasional golfer an easy out without disrupting travel for the others.
For a variant of this, I found a great suggestion on Twitter from @bradbonnerYM:
Our group is 24. Been going for 20 years. Top shelf, but always best bang for buck. Best change we made over the years: one round per day starting late morning. Gives plenty of time before and after round for hitting balls, drinks, dinner and fun. Cheers!— Brad Bonner — Yellowstone Mediation (@bradbonnerYM) March 1, 2018
Be clear about costs
Anyone who has ever budgeted a project knows that you're better off being conservative (i.e. realistic) in cost estimates and come in higher at the outset rather than lower. It's much easier giving back money rather than trying to collect a second time from everyone. And don't ignore the little stuff, whether it's meals, tips, gas, caddie fees or the price differential between single rooms and doubles. With big groups it’s probably best to set one fee and collect it in advance. PayPal’s Venmo app is a very good mechanism for cost sharing.
With smaller groups it could make sense to let the captain take charge and collect later. That’s what Evan Loudin (@loud1) did:
In 2015 I took 3 buddies to Cabot for my birthday. We actually played Cliffs a few days after it soft-opened. Things I did: I paid for everything and had everyone pay me their share afterwards. I was good at estimating and came in almost to the penny at $2k each which I had quoted as an estimate. IMO this made the trip way more enjoyable. No worrying about splitting everything all the time. One credit card, we'll figure it out later. One guy didn't drink so it took some figuring on my end after the fact to separate that out. But it was totally worth it.
Share any discounts you get
A lot of places offer discounts or freebies to the event coordinator. My advice is don't hoard the benefit, but share it with everyone. A little selflessness here goes a long way toward creating goodwill and trust.
One of my Twitter followers explained it best: Joe Kane (@GolfTilDeath):
Create mobile phone text list. Use wisely. Use cloud based folder (Box, DropBox, Google Drive) for shared docs, schedules, maps, phone list, emergency contacts…) Ensure everyone knows how to access the folder via their phone.— Joe Kane (@GolfTilDeath) March 1, 2018
A few quick points on equipment. Make sure everyone has their golf bag name-tagged (it’s amazing how many experienced golfers don’t have this). And limit them to three bag tags per – nobody is allowed to carry 17 heavy tags. Have pity on caddies; keep the golf bag on the light side – a walking bag ideally, but certainly not one of those heavy leather pro bags. Suggest they all wear golf shoes that they’ve already broken in, lest they end up with very sore feet. And for trips to Great Britain & Ireland (and Bandon Dunes) it’s more important to have a good two-piece waterproof outfit than an umbrella; if it’s raining it’s likely to be sideways, in which case an umbrella is useless.
The "Problem Guy"
Finally, every group has its "Problem Guy." It might be your slowest drunk. Or the one whose faultless sensibility can’t be pleased. If he doesn’t have a sense of humor about himself you’ll really have your hands full. Of course there’s always this advice, from Greg Martin @gm_mdgolf
"I put the guy who complained the most in charge of complaints and suggestions. Worked marvelously."
Tweet me at @bradleysklein for more tips on successful trip-captain planning and we’ll run it in a subsequent column.