ORLANDO, Fla. -- Anybody who has organized a golf trip knows it's a thankless job.
It requires hours of online research to find the best deals on where to stay and play, and numerous phone calls to set up tee times and hotel reservations. Then, there's the ugly task of collecting the money. It all can be overwhelming.
Why not hand the job off to the pros? Golfpac Travel has been customizing golf vacations for more than 35 years. The Florida-based tour operator works with more than 35 destinations, offering golf vacations at more than 600 courses, resorts and hotels. They have been sending golfers to Florida, California, Hawaii, Arizona, Scotland, Spain, the Caribbean and beyond since the days of rotary phones before the Internet even existed.
"The reason guys are coming to us is we are the experts in being able to put this program together," Golfpac President Jeff Hamilton says. "We have ability to stand behind the product. We can stand behind you if the course is over-seeded or overbooked. We can get you into other places. If you have a problem at 10 p.m. at night, if you have emergency, you can alert me. We are here to help."
Golfers who have never used a tour operator don't really understand how useful they can be. They are essentially part cruise director, part insurance plan and part customer-service agent. Have a question or a problem? It's their goal to answer it or solve it. Golfpac has weapons at its disposal that golfers who try to plan a group trip on their own don't:
Golfpac's Web site, www.golfpactravel.com , and online software for trip planning are a big bonus, especially for larger groups or trips with complicated logistics.
Once you decide upon a destination, you can easily compare the cost of trips featuring different courses and pick what's best for your group. Leaders can track online who has paid.
Let's say you have friends flying in from around the country to join in the fun. Wayne Bryant, Golfpac's director of information technology, says the company's technology can handle logistics if a couple of golfers want to arrive early or stay a couple days later. Or if somebody bails out, it can adjust tee times and fees.
"We have big databases that do all this," Bryant says. "We can handle that easy. If you want to change a course (on your itinerary), fine. If you are booking by yourself, if you book for 12 (and want to change), you are just going to eat it (the expenses)."
Golfpac is proud that many of its employees have been working with the company for years. Bryant has been with the company since 1980. Hamilton, who bought Golfpac in 1986 with a group of partners, says his reservation staff members who handle phones have more than 400 years combined on the job.
"When a client makes a reservation, they are talking to someone who has been here 15 years on average," Bryant says. "They are not dealing with a $9-an-hour employee who has been here for three months."
That experience means the Golfpac staff knows how close certain courses are to one another and the proximity of the hotel, and can help you find special deals. For example, there are times when a group books an extra day, the trip will actually cost less. Around-the-clock customer support can help manage flight cancellations, rainouts and other snafus.
Since Golfpac works so closely with its roster of courses and resorts, the company has critical inside information at its disposal. It has access to the best advanced tee times, up to 180 days. Its packages can offer specials to those who book early, a free night's stay or free replays.
If you are renting a car, for example, Golfpac can offer the upgrade where you bypass the line at the rental counter and go straight to your car.
Golfpac does the research necessary to know when courses are aerating their greens, so you can avoid those times. Golfers who book through Golfpac have access to honest reviews of courses and resorts. The positive and negative feedback provided by previous customers can help you make the right decisions for your group.
"It is a closed system, open only to the people who have played there and paid and stayed there," Bryant says. "It is a much more telling analysis. (These reviews) become very highly respected opinions."
Peace of mind
After nearly three decades, Hamilton says he has seen it all in the golf-travel industry.
"You always hear these horror stories about booking when rooms aren't available, or the hotel is under-departed. That's when people stay extra nights," he says. "Or you get to course and the maintenance isn't up to par or there's a tournament going on. Unfortunately, they (course personnel) don't always let people know what they (the golfers) are buying. We are more in tune with what's going on. We will go to bat for you. It is great to have someone who can settle those issues for you. We deal with issues like this all the time. We are a customer-service organization."
Hamilton says he has moved hundreds of golf groups off of one course and onto another after conditioning or service complaints. Although Golfpac works regularly with the courses, Hamilton says golfers take first priority.
"People are willing to pay for service right now," he says. "At the end of the day, we provide value for money spent. It is like insurance. Nobody wants to buy it, but nobody drives a car without it. Nobody wants to use it, but if you need to, that's what they have with us."