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After months of sheltering and playing golf near my home, I’m itching for a golf trip! I know the safety measures I need to take when hitting the road, but what else should I know about planning/booking golf travel in these unpredictable times? — Anthony Simo, via Facebook
Welcome to the club, Anthony! So many golfers like yourself played a bunch in 2020 but kept it mostly local. Travel was limited, to say the least.
Now, though, with a new year underway, and light appearing at the end of the pandemic tunnel, you’re not alone if you’re looking to plan a golf trip. Pent up demand has given way to a torrent of bookings at top golf destinations in this country and across the pond.
During the tightest of last year’s lockdowns, the travel industry bent over backward to accommodate consumers, with forgiving prices and reservation policies on plane tickets, tee times, hotel rooms, group packages and more. With some courses, tour operators and air carriers, that remains the case; there’s still a fair amount of latitude. But the climate has shifted.
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“There are some different terms and conditions these days,” says Bill Hogan, CEO of golf tour operator Pioneer Golf. “But some of last summer’s incentives, when the resorts were just reopening and looking for bookings, are now evaporating and mostly getting back to ‘normal.’”
What’s “normal,” of course, can change overnight. And, as Hogan points out, “nobody has a crystal ball.” But while we can’t predict the future, we can provide a snapshot of the present. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the golf-travel landscape as you plan for an adventurous year ahead.
Roundtrip flights from San Francisco to Honolulu can be had this week for as little as $200 or less, a bargain price that comes with a caveat: proof of a negative Covid test is required prior to boarding in order to bypass a 10-day quarantine upon arrival. Lesson being: No matter where you’re headed, always read the fine print so you’re clear on any restrictions that might apply.
Over the past year, airlines have been adjusting on the fly to a fluid situation, modifying not only their prices but also their schedules to match demand. Depending on where you’re going, you might be limited to flying at inconvenient times.
The good news is, change and cancellation policies remain fairly generous at many airlines, with future credits offered at no penalty, even on “non-refundable” fares. But given lingering uncertainties, Hogan says that “it’s more important than ever to consider purchasing travel insurance” for your golf getaway.
In some cases, booking through a tour operator comes with additional safeguards. Take PerryGolf, for instance, a leading tour operator in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The company has a contract with British Airways that allows clients to make reservations without ticketing airfare until just before departure, a welcome bit of leeway in case any unexpected snags arise.
Pinehurst. Bandon Dunes. Sand Valley. Kohler. Streamsong. Name your top-tier golf resort and the story is the same: 2021 bookings have been going gangbusters. Discounts are much scarcer than they were last year. If anything, prices are at a premium.
As they have since the start the first lockdowns, reservation policies vary from one property to the next, and are subject to change along with shifts in local public-health mandates, which also influence goings-on at the properties themselves, when it comes to matters such as mask-wearing and indoor dining offerings. Prepare to be flexible on that front, as those policies might shift between the time you book and the time you arrive.
In recognition of this reality, reservation policies at most resorts remain generous, ranging from full refunds on cancellations to credits for future use, at no penalty. The trickiest part, at some of the most popular destinations, is simply getting a tee time and a room.
At the Kohler properties in Wisconsin, for example, bookings for May 1 through Oct. 31 can be cancelled up to seven days in advance and golf can be cancelled up to four days in advance. “However, given the ongoing pandemic,” a Kohler spokesperson said, “we are continuing to remain flexible with our cancellation policies and 2021 bookings.”
At Streamsong Resort, a 54-hole property in Florida, a spokesperson said the resort will be busy in January and February, but that guests are booking within a closer time frame today than they did in the pre-pandemic era — “usually 45 to 50 days out, as opposed to 90-180 days.”
The UK and Ireland
Tee times at the Old Course are often tough to come by. This year, with cancellations spilling over from 2020, they’re practically impossible to land. The same is true for many of the marquee properties across the pond, including all of the British Open rota courses, which Hogan says, “are basically sold out for 2021.”
Not that there isn’t still great golf to be had. The UK and Ireland are loaded with top-notch courses that don’t always make the pages of glossy magazines. It’s hard to find a town that doesn’t have a local’s playground that’s more than worth your time. Bookings at these places remain largely wide open, and often can be made at the last minute, even on the day of play. It may not be the experience you initially imagined but it underscores an important point. Just as flexibility is crucial in the golf swing, it’s important these days in golf travel.
“As we continue climb out of this pandemic, as quarantines lift, opportunities will exist for great golf trips,” says Gordon Dalgleish, president of PerryGolf. “At that point, it might become a tradeoff of your sheer desire to travel and what compromises you might have to make to do so. And in any event, the prospect of a golf trip might look very appealing compared to sitting at home and watching the four walls.”