Press trips are kind of like buddy trips, except not everyone on the press trip is your buddy. Come to think of it, the same holds true with some buddy trips, too, especially the larger ones.
I once took a buddy trip to Ireland with seven other regular guys. I only knew a couple of them beforehand (they all knew each other), so it was up to me to try to make friends with the rest of the group. By the end of the trip, I had a couple of new friends, two people I would never talk to again and somehow I managed to alienate one of the guys I already knew before the trip. I'm not sure how that happened, but close quarters (we all shared a house near Rosses Point Golf Club in northwest Ireland) doesn't always bring out the best in people.
But back to the irregular guys: golf writers and travel writers.
Most golf writers are fairly professional, but there are some characters. Just like regular golfers, there are sandbaggers and reverse sandbaggers, you know the guys who have vanity handicaps. The latter is the one I don't understand (though sandbaggers in general are hard to figure out), and I'm always wary of revealing my handicap to golfers I've never played with before in fear that I might be accused of the same.
Regardless, among writers there are guys who never keep score, some who aren't particularly accurate with their scores and some who, dare I say, cheat. You know, again, like regular golfers. It takes all kinds.
What you can learn from press trips
The great thing about press trips, which are also known as fams (familiarization trips) is that they're buddy trips put together by hosts or PR agencies. They have resources and plenty of ideas.
One very memorable fam occurred a couple of years in the state of South Carolina. The PR folks who handled the account rented out Merle Haggard's old tour bus to cart us around the entire state. We went to places like Aiken, S.C., which is right next to Augusta, as well as Hilton Head Island. The bus had satellite TV, a refrigerator and even a bed, if you absolutely needed to take a nap, which even with the noise from our beer-drinking colleagues was possible. Best of all, none of us had to drive, and we could even deal out our one-putt poker after rounds on the table in the bus.
While renting a tour bus can certainly be expensive, the lesson here for buddy trips is that if you have eight or more golfers, you might want to consider a tour company or van and hiring a driver. Split eight ways, it's not that expensive. At the very least, it provides a designated driver.
Women can go on buddy trips, too
There have been a couple of press trips where I was the only male writer, and all the other journalists were women. I have to tell you, that's not all bad. These are typically trips where it's a mix of writers. Some are strictly travel or lifestyle writers, while only a couple of us might be golf writers.
On one trip, I played all my golf with the only other golfer on the trip, a woman who underplayed her ability. She was a very respectable 12-handicap. Better yet, it gave me a whole new perspective on the game, from a woman's point of view. Watching her play from the forward tees made me realize how poorly some courses are designed from the "ladies" tees. But I also realized that women golfers are just like men: Some are competitive, some simply like being on the course, and some are more interested in making it to the 19th hole. Some even like to bet.
The moral of this story is that a buddy trip doesn't have to be a male-bonding experience. It can be anything you want it to be. The most important part is that you're with people you like, and who like you.
Lessons from press buddy trips
One of the biggest press buddy trips is the annual Tahoe-Reno Golf Media Tour, an extravaganza each summer, touring some of the best golf courses in the Reno, Nev./Lake Tahoe area. This boondoggle is unique because every journalist has a car and is on a personalized schedule, so we're not all playing the same courses all the time, but we're often at the same bars at the end of the night.
On one particular trip on the last night, one of the writers probably had a couple too many cocktails and tried to pick up a woman bartender. He was so determined that come closing time, he latched onto the hood of this poor woman's car as she tried to drive off. Fortunately, there were no injuries. The lesson for all: Yes, post-round libations are an integral part of the golf buddy trip, but excess alcohol can be problematic.
On another occasion, the "journalists" were split up into groups of four to share luxury condos on the Alabama coast. There was cigar smoking on the balcony and of course, plenty of beer in the fridge. One of the roommates decided to start talking politics (I won't say which side of the aisle he was on), and it got out of hand, to the point where we didn't want to be around each other. The lesson for all: Politics is a topic that shouldn't be broached on a buddy trip.
Remember how we talked about hiring a driver? It's common on these trips to collect a few bucks from each member of the group so we can tip the driver at the end. These drivers are usually fairly personable and quite flexible, and work some pretty long hours. So it's common to take a collection for the driver to present him or her with a tip at the end of the trip. On more than one occasion, there have been members of the group who have refused to contribute. We can't choose our buddies on our press trips, but you can. The lesson for all: Choose wisely. Leave the cheapskates at home.
Perhaps my most memorable press trip, though, was one I took earlier this year to South Africa ("Trip Dispatch: South Africa offers an exceptional golf, wine and safari experience"). You might say this was the ultimate buddy trip. There were six rounds of golf, four wine tours and four safari game-drives. The days were long and we were bused all over South Africa, mostly on the Garden Route. Late night wine pairings with spectacular dinners, close encounters with rhinos, lions, leopards and giraffes (just to name a few) and some pretty memorable golf was a bonding experience for our party of eight, a mix of journalists, our hosts and travel professionals. By the end, were a pretty tight-knit group.
The takeaway? Make it about more than golf to enhance your buddy trip. You don't have to do a safari; a pub crawl or skeet shooting would do just fine.