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Golf vacations on the upswing
PEBBLE BEACH, California (CNN) -- Awe-inspiring, breathtaking and challenging. Ask anyone who has ever picked up a golf club and headed to Pebble Beach and you're bound to hear those superlatives and more.
"I've had people hyperventilate out there on the first tee," says caddie Scott Houston.
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"God did a nice job of joining everything in one place."
Adds a duffer: "I think everybody in their life should have an opportunity to come here, even if they don't play golf, just to have an opportunity to walk the grass here."
Many of the 26 million golfers in the United States agree: Golf is more than swinging a club at a little ball -- it's camaraderie, too. Just ask actor-politician Clint Eastwood and former Major League Baseball Commission Peter Ueberroth, owners of Pebble Beach Company.
"He (Ueberroth) was my partner yesterday, and we almost took a lot of money, but it didn't quite happen that way," Eastwood says with a laugh.
Aiming for amenities
Those pristine fairways yield a lot of green, too -- about $30 billion a year, according to golfing industry estimates. Analysts expect that figure to rise as the sport's popularity spreads. Since 1986, the number of leisure players has increased 33 percent, with the biggest hike among women.
"There is a golf boom going on now, " says Harry Hurt III, executive editor of T&L Golf Magazine. "You can play ... whether you are young, middle age or old, male or female. It really doesn't matter.
"You have that chance for companionship and conviviality on the course that you don't get in another sport."
Responding to the increased interest in golf, resorts are improving their courses and supporting amenities. Eastwood says he understands: An unsullied image is critical for a club's success, he thinks.
"The demand will be on us to ... make it always nice for generations to come," he says, "so when people come back 10 or 15 years from now, they'll feel the same feelings that they had when they were first here."
The Lodge at Pebble Beach and its sister property, The Inn at Spanish Bay, are consistently rated among the best golf resorts. Critics extoll their luxurious accommodations and stunning vistas -- attractions to ease the pain after a tough round.
Of course, there are some muscle aches that view alone can't soothe. The Spa at Pebble Beach offers a massage that could be the antidote, rain or shine.
'Golf without guilt'
Amenities like spas help resorts compete for the $24 million spent each year on golf travel. Destinations in Hawaii, Arizona and Colorado are taking note.
Maroon Creek Club in Aspen, Colorado, for example, is promoting its setting. Scott Erwin, who works at the resort, explains.
"With this facility," he says, "you're (at) about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) elevation, and you're up against the Buttermilk Mountains, so the vistas and the views beyond the actual design of the golf hole are spectacular."
The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, has been a "tourist destination" since 1766, when pioneers first came to soak in the healing waters of the springs. Now, they seek solace on the greens.
"For dad, it's like golf without guilt," says Homestead's Gary Rosenberg. "There are opportunities for the rest of the family. ... It let's the golfer play, knowing that everyone else is active as well."
When playing golf just isn't enough, there's the lure of watching. Professional tournaments are huge draws, as golfers flock to watch their club-swinging heroes.
"It becomes like a pilgrimage to these great golf courses -- St. Andrews (in Scotland), Pebble Beach, Doral (in Florida)," magazine editor Hurt says. "Sites of famous golf tournaments, sites of famous golf events add a certain ... cachet to these places that you don't find in other sports."
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