When you go to a restaurant, you order your soup or salad, then your entrée, then your dessert, don't you?
So, on a multi-course golf trip, why wouldn't you order your courses in a logical fashion, too?
Bottom line: if you don't pay attention to this, it could ruin your next golf trip.
Let me explain what I mean:
A couple weekends ago, I played two of the courses belonging to PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
On Saturday, I played St. Lucie Trail, the resort's off-campus course. On Sunday, I played the Ryder Course, at PGA Village's main facility.
But to any group planning a trip there, I would recommend - no, I would implore - that they switch the order.
Because St. Lucie Trail, a fine Jim Fazio layout that dates to the 70s, is super narrow off the tee, with smallish, pushed-up greens, lots of bunkers and water hazards that can sneak up on you on a number of holes. It's fun to play, but it can beat you up a little if you're not prepared.
The Ryder Course, on the other hand, is very open off the tee, and its putting surfaces are huge in comparison to its older sibling.
(By the way, I would place PGA Village's other two courses, the Wanamaker and the Dye, somewhere in between these two.)
Imagine you were planning a trip to PGA Village this past winter, and it was to include the first rounds of the year for you and your buddies.
Based on the descriptions above, I bet I can guess which course you'd want to play first.
It makes a lot of sense: playing your first round of the year, or even your first round of a normal trip (on even a mid-season escape, early-trip jitters are common) at a tight, difficult layout and shooting a big number can set a bad tone for the whole experience.
There are other factors to consider as well. Weather, course conditions (e.g., courses with softer fairways don't drain as well, and are more likely to be cart-path-only) and other concerns can affect the order in which you should schedule your rounds.
Yes, I learned the difference between those two PGA Village courses by playing them first, but you don't have to have been to a resort in order to be able to figure out the best order of play for you and your group.
Just ten minutes (or less) of research can go a long way toward avoiding this often-overlooked golf vacation pitfall.
Here's how to go about it:
Google is your friend. You can learn a lot from Google Maps' Satellite function. When I am researching courses I'm not familiar with, I always have a tab in my browser open to maps.google.com. Even from a birds-eye view, you can tell if trees or wetlands or houses are encroaching more than usual at a given course. If you want a reference point, first look at your home course to establish a baseline before checking out the ones you're planning on visiting. (Note: If you want to get really fancy, download Google Earth and use their Ruler function to measure things like green and fairway widths...see below.)
Go to the cards. In almost every case, a resort or course's website will have a scan of the scorecard. Depending on your handicap (and those of your buddies), you'll want to look at the Rating and Slope figures closely. If you're closer to a bogey player, pay attention to the Slope from the tees you would ordinarily play, and try and order your rounds from low to high. If you're closer to scratch, the Rating is generally going to be a more accurate indicator of difficulty. (Note: If for some reason the scorecard isn't available online, go to the USGA's National Course Rating Database: ncrdb.usga.org.)
Playing more than 18 in a day? Pace yourself. If you're looking to play 27 or 36 holes on a given day but don't want to end up exhausted, I'd recommend taking special care to pair a tougher, "premium" course with an easier one, even if "easier" means playing from a shorter tee than you normally would. You can also play alternate shot or a scramble with your group to ease the burden. Many golfers will pair the mighty Pinehurst No. 2 with the more relaxed No. 1 or No. 3 courses, for example. Finally, on multi-course days, I would recommend scheduling the tougher course first, when you're fresher. (Note: If you're going to be walking, especially at a course like Pinehurst No. 2, taking carts in that second loop will save your legs.)
Build to a grand finale. If you're visiting a resort with one particular standout course, send yourself off on a high note by scheduling it last. If, say, you're visiting TPC Sawgrass and you and your buddies have a multi-day match going, nothing against the Dye's Valley course, but wouldn't you rather have everything be on the line at that amazing closing stretch at the Stadium Course? One caveat, though: if the weather might be threatening, you may want to move the best course to second-to-last, in case of a rainout. (Note: If you're going to be playing two premium courses - or the same big-name course twice - on your trip, my recommendation is to bookend your itinerary with them. Start with a bang, finish with a bang.)
How do you typically schedule the courses you play on your golf vacations? What factors do you consider when building your lineup?
Let us know in the comments below!