Popular Golf Vacations

How To Build The Perfect Golf Vacation Itinerary

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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.

Why?

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 should be the first PGA Village course you play on a trip.

The fun, not-so-taxing Ryder Course should be the first PGA Village course you play on a trip.

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.)

Here's a perfect example of what Google Maps or Google Earth can teach you. On the left is the par-5 eighth at St. Lucie Trail. The yellow OB-to-OB line is just 58 yards. On the right is the par-5 sixth at the Ryder course. There, the corridor is 108 yards wide. Which would you rather play early on in your golf season? (Google Earth)

Here’s a perfect example of what Google Maps or Google Earth can teach you. On the left is the par-5 eighth at St. Lucie Trail. The yellow OB-to-OB line is just 58 yards. On the right is the par-5 sixth at the Ryder course. There, the corridor is 108 yards wide. Which would you rather play early on in your golf season? (Google Earth)

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.  (NoteIf 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!

4 Comments

  1. Philly Mike S

    March 28, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Just did 10 rounds over a seven day trip: TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town, Kiawah Ocean Course and Pinhurst (2,4,7,8) along with Tobacco Road, Dormie and Pinewild.

    I would play TPC and Kiawah again. Highly recommend Tobacco Road as a fun round!

    What they did to Pinehurst #2 is a tragedy – biggest disappointment from course conditions, unknowledgeable caddies (save money don’t hire them – just get a yardage book), to room accommodations.

  2. Bingo

    March 28, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Been using this strategy for all 47 years of my group’s annual Myrtle Beach trip (10,251 total holes played). Have coached many groups. On one occasion a group played a “last day course” on day 2 (due to a course issue) and many golfers were disappointed the remainder of the week due to unrealistic expectations.
    We plan to complete 50 years IF they allow walkers on the greens.
    If you wish Google “Bingeman,45 years.”

  3. JQII

    March 31, 2017 at 1:08 am

    I was with Philly Mike S except started on the two Streamsong courses which I thoroughly enjoyed. Totaled 12 rounds in 9 days with 7 walking and three 2 rounds per days. Planning is important per the article but sometimes trip routing and course availability drive a lot of the decisions. BTW, walking a round and then driving 3-5 hours can be just as exhausting as walking two rounds.

    Also generally agree with Mike on courses we both played except I’ve played Pinehurst #2 before (two months before the US Open in 2014) and like the course a lot – definitely a few poor holes though. Tobacco Road is a great visual course with some really tough holes but would definitely play it again.

  4. Kas

    April 6, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Tobacco Road is awesome. Like playing a cross between Pine Valley and Lahinch. Also hit the Dormie, great Sandhills course. Totally disagree on #2. Great golf course. You need to play the right tees for your handicap.

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