Even though it feels as though 2017 just got underway, a huge milestone is fast approaching: the end of the school year.
And if golf is a family affair for you, you're probably getting ready to start planning a family trip where your son(s) and daughter(s) will be welcomed with open arms by the golf courses you visit.
The truth is that while golf courses and resorts have become more tolerant of kids across the board in recent years, some are still more aggressive than others when it comes to offering free or discounted junior golf rates.
So if you want to have a great time on the golf course with your kids this summer and you want to avoid breaking the bank as much as possible, here's where you should go:
To be fair, "Myrtle Beach" is the answer to a lot of variations of the question, "Where should I take a golf vacation if I want _______?"
But if that question involves playing golf with your children, it is really, really hard to beat Myrtle Beach.
The reason is that, quite simply, kids can play golf for free or nearly free - mostly in the afternoons, but sometimes in the mornings, too, depending on the time of year - alongside their parents at more golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area than anywhere else on the planet.
My family would vacation in Myrtle Beach in the summers and during school breaks when I was growing up, and I can't tell you how many thousands of dollars' worth of free golf I played from the age of eight up through most of my teens alongside my dad.
Among those courses where I played for free, and where the policy still abides? Some of the Grand Strand's top-rated tracks: Grande Dunes Resort Club, Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, King's North at Myrtle Beach National and Wild Wing Plantation.
And even at the Myrtle Beach-area courses where junior rates aren't quite $0, they are still extremely low. For example, at the vaunted Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club (which just hosted the prestigious Palmetto High School Golf Championship last week), summer junior rates dip as low as $29 after noon, which, compared to high-season greens fees north of $150 at both courses, is a wonderful deal.
It's one thing for a high-volume family vacation destination like Myrtle Beach - with a healthy amount of competition for business among dozens of courses - to offer free green fees for kids. But Bandon Dunes really got people's attention recently when it announced the rollout of what they're calling the "Junior Bandonista Experience."
For a little over a month of their prime summer season - Father's Day Weekend through the end of July - parents will be able to play a round with their kids at any of Bandon Dunes' courses after 10:00 am, and the son's or daughter's green fees will be waived. Best of all: whereas most junior rates extend only until kids are 16, 17 or 18, the Junior Bandonista Experience will apply to "kids" up to 22 years old. This is undoubtedly a nod to the fact that Bandon Dunes tends to be a spot for high school and college graduation trips for golfing families.
Turtle Bay Resort
This resort on Oahu's north shore is home to two courses, by Arnold Palmer and George (uncle of Tom) Fazio. On the latter course each weekday, the resort holds "Ohana Hours" - "ohana" means "family" in Hawaiian - from 3:00 pm onward, when kidt aged 17 and under can play for free, and can rent clubs for free if needed. First kid's free, and any additional junior players' greens fees are only $25.
Marriott International (various locations)
The world's largest hotelier, Marriott, is also in on the spirit of affordable family golf. Kids aged 15 and under can play golf for free with an accompanying, paying parent at a number of courses at Marriott properties, including the following:
- Shadow Ridge Golf Club - Palm Desert, Calif.
- Hawk's Landing Golf Club - Orlando, Fla.
- Toftrees Golf Resort - State College, Penn.
- Griffin Gate Golf Club - Lexington, Ky.
- Westfields Golf Club - Clifton, Va.
- Royal St. Kitts Golf Club - Basseterre, St. Kitts
- La Iguana Golf Club - Herradura Bay, Costa Rica
Troon Golf (various locations)
Troon manages scores of golf courses across the world, with their "Troon Family Golf" program in place at nearly all of them. This means that at the vast majority of Troon facilities, a junior (15 and under) can play golf for free alongside a paying adult anytime after 3:00 pm. In addition, juniors have access to complimentary Callaway rental clubs throughout the day and when a parent is taking a lesson, the junior will receive instruction at the same time at no extra charge.
Here's a sampling of the Troon locations participating in Family Golf Month:
- Lake of Isles Golf Club - North Stonington, Conn.
- Bear Trap Dunes Golf Club - Ocean View, Del.
- The Cape Club - East Falmouth, Mass.
- Centennial Golf Club - Carmel, N.Y.
- St. James Plantation - Southport, N.C.
- Potomac Shores Golf Club - Potomac Shores, Va.
Preferred Hotels & Resorts (various locations)
This marketing consortium of high-end hotels and resorts includes a bunch of well-known destinations, and kids aged 16 and under are able to play golf for free with a paying adult after 1 pm at the following resorts, among others:
- The Wigwam - Litchfield Park, Ariz.
- Reunion Resort - Orlando, Fla.
- Samoset Resort - Rockport, Maine
- Nemacolin Woodlands Resort - Farmington, Penn.
- Woodstock Inn & Resort - Woodstock, Vt.