Affordable golf straddles the line of oxymoron. No sport matches golf’s ease in provoking frustration, yet, without fail, cajoles millions of Americans each year to fork over a pretty penny for four hours of impending irritation.
Mark Twain likened golf to a good walk spoiled, a perfect metaphor for the game: Its attraction is not only in the activity itself, but also the field on which it is carried out. Many golf courses the world over are like green cathedrals, afforded the same reverence one gives in a place of worship. From the omnipresent pine trees of Augusta National in Georgia, to the hallowed fairways of St. Andrews Links in Scotland, golf has a history all its own and a formative bounty of courses as evidence.
Pinehurst #2 golf course, hole 15, at Pinehurst Resort.
The problem is, golf also has a history of exclusion; one part cost, one part status. Forget about even sniffing the azaleas at Augusta unless you are a close friend of member Bill Gates, and while the idea of playing St. Andrews sounds nice, it will cost players upwards of $200 for just one round.
Undoubtedly, booking a golf vacation can be daunting, and many vacationers might believe that booking a well-known golf resort is cost prohibitive. Not so fast. Many renowned resorts offer seductive packages that allow anyone to play the same courses looped at one time by Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.
Playing a Legend
Take the famed Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, which has hosted two U.S. Opens in the past decade and is gearing up for the 2014 Open. This is a paradise for golfers with eight different courses, bucolic resort grounds and a host of accommodations. There are three separate hotels on the premises: The Carolina, The Holly and The Manor. Most of the resort’s packages offer accommodations in The Carolina, which has 210 rooms and 12 suites, and is the most popular hotel on the property.
A guest room at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina offers tasteful, subdued accommodations.
The resort offers two golf packages for the summer—the resort’s shoulder season—which, for a golf resort of this pedigree, are strikingly economical. The first is the Pinehurst Summer Tee package that is valid now through September 3 and, as of press time, availability still exists. The resort calls the package the best deal for longer stays and includes the following, starting at only $949 per person: three nights’ accommodations, complimentary dinner and breakfast, one round of golf per day (four rounds altogether), a cart, club storage, a sleeve of Titleist golf balls, afternoon tea, biking, outdoor pool and fitness center usage and access to the resort’s tennis facilities. That is one value-rich package, which even gets better: kids 17 and under stay, eat and play for free.
Now is also the ideal time for clients to book. In August, Pinehurst will host the U.S. Amateur on Pinehurst #2 and Pinehurst #4 (the courses are arranged by number and #2 is known as the top course; if your clients want to play it, there is an upgrade fee of $165). The two courses will be in optimal playing condition before and after the tournament ends.
Pinehurst’s second package, the Summer Escape, offers stays starting at $329 per person per night, which includes a room, breakfast, dinner and a round of golf per night booked. Travel agents with questions should contact Kellie Slade, director of social sales and reservations, at 910-235-8544.
Pinehurst may be the exception to the rule, but two golf resorts in the Tampa, FL, area have great year-round packages for the cost-savvy golfer. The 480-acre Saddlebrook Resort offers two Arnold Palmer-signature courses, along with an Arnold Palmer training academy, and accommodations that are 75 percent suites. The resort recently upgraded its bedding program to include 220-thread-count sheets complemented by goose-down duvets. Another plus to keep in mind is that all guest rooms and suites have their own private patio or balcony with views of the golf courses, tennis courts or the Superpool, a half-million-gallon pool that serves as the resort’s centerpiece.
An aerial shot of Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, FL, shows the Superpool and part of the golf greens.
Both the par-71 Palmer Course and par-70 Saddlebrook Course were built to challenge players, but not to the point of being impossibly difficult. Saddlebrook offers two golf packages that are seasonal. Similar to Pinehurst, summer is Saddlebrook’s low season and the time to get the best deals. The season, which stretches from now to October 4, has a golf package that starts at $186 per person, per night, for a double Guest Room and $216 per person, per night, for a One-Bedroom Suite. The rate includes a round of golf both on the day of arrival and departure, club cleaning and storage, a free bucket of range balls per day, use of bikes on property and, for those traveling with children, Saddlebrook offers the S’Kids Club for children ages four to 12.
The winter, fall and spring package is almost identical, but pricing is a bit steeper, starting at $397 per person, per night, for the deluxe guest room. Both summer and winter/fall/spring packages require at least a two-night stay. Saddlebrook pays 10 percent commissions on the entire packages, not just the accommodation portions. Agent questions should be directed to Johnnie Giffin, the resort’s sales director. He can be contacted at 813-907-4477 or via e-mail at [email protected] brookresort.com.
A spacious Two-Bedroom Suite at Saddlebrook Resort.
Just 32 miles west, on Florida’s Gulf Coast is Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, a sprawling 900-acre playground of fun for kids and adults with 620 condo-style suite accommodations and four championship golf courses—Copperhead, Island, Highlands North and Highlands South.
Though all four courses are tip-top, Copperhead is the course that people come from far and wide to play. Annually ranked as one of the top golf courses in the U.S., it is also a March stop on the PGA Tour for the PODS Championship. “If I could only play one course the rest of my life, it would be Copperhead,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange. “It has that much character.” Strange’s colleague, Stewart Cink, calls Copperhead good enough to host a U.S. Open.
That said, it’s also the most expensive course to play at Innisbrook, but if a client is dead-set on giving it a go, the best time to stay at the resort and play the course is May to October—the shoulder season—where 18 holes will cost $150, almost $100 less than what the course demands in the high season—January to April.
The best bet is to book a package, especially for families. Innisbrook offers the Ultimate Summer Getaway five-day/four-night family package between now and October 1, with a flat rate of $999. This includes two-bedroom, two-bath suite accommodations, a family breakfast each morning, two days of Kids’ Camp, two rounds of golf on either Highlands course and one hour each day of tennis court time.
For pure golfers, the Preferred Golf Package is the most popular package at Innisbrook. It runs year-round, but pricing differs based on the season. As usual, the best time to book is during the shoulder season when the package starts at only $169 per person, per night (two-night minimum from now to October 1; three-night minimum all other dates). It includes suite accommodations; breakfast daily; 18 holes of golf daily, including one round at Copperhead; unlimited practice range balls; club storage; and a gift pack that includes a logo towel and personalized bag tag.
The resort—despite appearances—is not all about golf; don’t forget tennis. The property has 11 courts, seven of which are lighted for nighttime play. A fitness center is also available, as is biking and even fishing on the premises in Lake Innisbrook. As with Saddlebrook, agents receive 10 percent commission on the entire package, not just the lodging component. For questions or further information about Innisbrook, agents are encouraged to contact the resort’s reservations manager, Dena Hoyles, at 727-942-2000 or at [email protected].
After a day’s worth of activities, your clients can relax with an on-property massage or by lounging at one of the pools (there are six onsite), including the Loch Ness Pool & Spa, or by its two water slides, two sand beach areas, plunge pool and 15-foot waterfall. If your clients want to spend some time away from the resort, there is the Busch Gardens amusement park and the Salvador Dali Museum only minutes away.
A golf resort, though, isn’t the only option at an agent’s disposal for clients who want to take to the links. There are many superb public courses spread out across the U.S. that, when combined with lodging, can create a great value. Although Arizona and Florida are synonymous with golf, it’s another state that contends under the radar: Alabama—specifically, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a collection of public golf courses that dot the landscape along the state’s two main thoroughfares, I-65 and I-59.
In total, the system, which was created by the Retirement Systems of Alabama to stir the state economically, is composed of more than 430 holes spread over 11 different locations. Greens fees start at a palatable $43, but range upward as high as $125, depending on course and season.
Although agents can’t make commissions off greens fees, they can on lodging. There is a mix of properties in close proximity to the golf courses along the Trail. Four of the sites have resort lodging, but, unfortunately, commissions are still only based on room bookings, not golf. Among them is the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, in Florence, minutes from the two Shoals courses on the Trail. In the summer, the hotel has rates from $150 per night.