Golf vacationers seek more than 19th hole for off-course fun
By Tal Mekel
(CNN) -- Tour operators and travel agents are increasingly filling a demand for vacations that combine golf and activities off the course.
Packages cater to those who want to do more than play golf on their vacation and to their companions who might not want to golf at all.
"Golf has attracted a slightly broader audience thanks to young stars like Tiger Woods -- people who are getting into golf but it's not their entire life," said Larry Olmsted, editor of The Golf Insider, a golf travel newsletter.
People are accomplishing a lot at work and want to make the most of their holiday as well, Olmsted said. Many even try to learn something new while they are away from the office -- a trend referred to as "questing" or "experiential vacationing."
Bill Hogan, president of Wide World of Golf, said dual-interest trips have become the norm. He customizes tours around the world that combine golf with fishing, wine tasting, safari expeditions, photography seminars and cooking lessons.
Amateur chefs and gourmet food lovers head to Italy, where they balance morning rounds of golf with afternoon trips to local restaurants.
"The Italian wine and cuisine are absolutely wonderful and when you combine that with the scenery of Lake Como, for instance, it makes for an excellent golf vacation," Hogan said.
The golf and photography seminars are held in Scotland, home to some of the oldest golf courses in the world, among them the Old Course at St. Andrews.
"It has a certain look to it that can't be duplicated this day and age and photographs beautifully in the evening setting sun with the elevation changes and the sea right along the course," Hogan said.
PerryGolf's Gordon Dalgleish books many trips to Scotland and Ireland, where history buffs can explore centuries-old castles and "feel right in the middle of history."
And after a long day of golf and sightseeing it's easy to find a place to relax, said Dalgleish, a Scot who has been operating from Atlanta, Georgia, for 23 years.
"People enjoy going into a pub and having a pint with their caddie or just with the locals and getting to know them."
Other outdoor pursuits offered by agents and resorts include hunting, trekking, boating and off-road driving.
Fun for the non-golfer
Scotland has some of the world's oldest golf courses and history-rich towns.
Robert Lewis, president of TravelGolf.com, a golf publication network, suggests the top three locations for diverse activities are Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach is the best family golf destination and the most affordable, Lewis said. "The women like the shopping, the kids like the amusement opportunities and a lot of time the men like the golf."
Arizona is an ideal destination, according to Lewis, because it offers world-class golf and great outdoor activities, including hiking and ballooning.
Arizona also has numerous spas, an increasingly popular component of golf packages, especially appealing to so-called "golf widows." Vacationers who like being pampered can be treated to massages, aromatherapy and facials in a unique environment.
Las Vegas is the most expensive of Lewis' recommended destinations, and the city's gambling opportunities are more appropriate for vacationing couples or golf buddies. "You can play some of the best golf resorts out there and then you can just go a few miles away over to the Strip -- gambling and golf is the oldest combo in the book."
Cruising the courses
Golfers who enjoy the ocean can book a golfing cruise, where they pursue their hobby while hopping from one exotic course to another.
GolfAhoy books cruises for couples, families and large groups. The ships have a professional golfer on board, as well as a driving cage and a simulator for practicing your swing.
"The great thing about a cruise is if you want to be entertained 24/7, you can. If you want to be laid back and relax 24/7, you can. You have the choice," company owner Anthony Webber said.
Destinations include the Dominican Republic, the Mexican Riviera and the Mediterranean, and prices depend on the cruise line used, the amenities offered and the length of the voyage.
While golf can be paired with almost any activity, even learning a new language, some requests are trickier than others, as Hogan recently learned.
"I was asked about arranging golf for people who are doing a Harley Davidson motorcycle trip through France," he said. "Obviously, the golf clubs would be shuttled to and from the different places."