Buddy trip captains: How to lead a successful group golf vacation

By personality type I’m a certified, Type-A planner. That extends to golf travel, where I prefer to be driving the bus, so to speak, rather than riding along passively at the back.

I learned this back in the early 1990s when I gave in to a well-meaning, but overly ambitious marketing rep for golf in Northern Michigan who took me on a five-day trip to see 26 courses. Throughout the whirlwind I was variously furious, numb and overwhelmed. The upshot came when we saw two courses on the way to an Alister MacKenzie-Perry Maxwell gem, Crystal Downs Golf Club, where we teed off at 1 PM, then drove an hour back to Traverse City to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear at Grand Traverse Resort. This being early July, we still had time for dinner in fading daylight.

Flash forward to 2011, when on a professionally-organized bus tour through Northern Ireland and the West of Ireland, 24 of us endured rounds over 11 different courses in eight days while staying in five different hotels. It didn’t help that we all met in Dublin Airport in the morning after overnight flights, jumped on a bus for a three hour ride to Enniscrone and played that and the next two days through a steel-pellet rainstorm.

Between the weather and the bars, we never dried out. Which leads me to the first of several rules.

There’s such a thing as "too much golf"

Too many groups run themselves ragged with overstuffed itineraries that include 36 holes a day and requires transport in between. Golf is fun. A forced march is not. Plan accordingly. Don't organize competitive golf for the first day you arrive. Let folks opt in or out on their own. The occasional, organized 36-hole is day is fine if played at the same or an adjoining property, but you’ll have more fun, get more out of the experience and feel more relaxed if the second round is a different format, ideally at the same facility. Play a two-man better ball in the morning, break for a relaxed lunch and play alternate shot that afternoon.

Create diverse formats for competition

Every group has a dispersion of talent, so plan games and groups accordingly.

Stroke play at Arcadia Bluffs may chew up your group's high handicappers. Choose a format that's fun for all.


A surefire way to exhaust your group is to line up round after round of competitive stroke play. Every group has a certain dispersion of talent, and if you insist on such a format for your trip you’ll end up narrowing the participants by virtue of self-selection. Differ the formats. Include net and gross. Two-person better ball takes a lot of pressure off of people and still allows everyone to have fun. The same with alternate shot – ideal for the day’s second round, as is a two- or four-person scramble.

As per @JayRevell:

For Streamsong, we will do three 18 hole competitions, a putting competition, and a shootout on the bye hole. If our destination has a short course, we always do a session there also. We award points and cash for every player in each session. Player with the most points at the end wins it all. Lots of variety, multiple chances to win, great competition and camaraderie.

Schedule some slack time

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional open space on a schedule so that some folks can play tourist, others can sleep while some simply head out to pound more golf balls. That works well at multi-course facility like Bandon Dunes, where some people can’t get enough golf and others would prefer to tour the town or take a hike through the dunes.

And when you're traipsing through Scotland, there are going to be some people who want to divert around Loch Ness or Culloden Battlefield instead of playing Castle Stuart a second time. Even when you're traveling by bus, the availability of Uber gives the occasional golfer an easy out without disrupting travel for the others.

For a variant of this, I found a great suggestion on Twitter from @bradbonnerYM:

Be clear about costs

Anyone who has ever budgeted a project knows that you're better off being conservative (i.e. realistic) in cost estimates and come in higher at the outset rather than lower. It's much easier giving back money rather than trying to collect a second time from everyone. And don't ignore the little stuff, whether it's meals, tips, gas, caddie fees or the price differential between single rooms and doubles. With big groups it’s probably best to set one fee and collect it in advance. PayPal’s Venmo app is a very good mechanism for cost sharing.

With smaller groups it could make sense to let the captain take charge and collect later. That’s what Evan Loudin (@loud1) did:

In 2015 I took 3 buddies to Cabot for my birthday. We actually played Cliffs a few days after it soft-opened. Things I did: I paid for everything and had everyone pay me their share afterwards. I was good at estimating and came in almost to the penny at $2k each which I had quoted as an estimate. IMO this made the trip way more enjoyable. No worrying about splitting everything all the time. One credit card, we'll figure it out later. One guy didn't drink so it took some figuring on my end after the fact to separate that out. But it was totally worth it.

Share any discounts you get

A lot of places offer discounts or freebies to the event coordinator. My advice is don't hoard the benefit, but share it with everyone. A little selflessness here goes a long way toward creating goodwill and trust.

Communicate

One of my Twitter followers explained it best: Joe Kane‏ (@GolfTilDeath):

Be prepared

A few quick points on equipment. Make sure everyone has their golf bag name-tagged (it’s amazing how many experienced golfers don’t have this). And limit them to three bag tags per – nobody is allowed to carry 17 heavy tags. Have pity on caddies; keep the golf bag on the light side – a walking bag ideally, but certainly not one of those heavy leather pro bags. Suggest they all wear golf shoes that they’ve already broken in, lest they end up with very sore feet. And for trips to Great Britain & Ireland (and Bandon Dunes) it’s more important to have a good two-piece waterproof outfit than an umbrella; if it’s raining it’s likely to be sideways, in which case an umbrella is useless.

The "Problem Guy"

Finally, every group has its "Problem Guy." It might be your slowest drunk. Or the one whose faultless sensibility can’t be pleased. If he doesn’t have a sense of humor about himself you’ll really have your hands full. Of course there’s always this advice, from Greg Martin @gm_mdgolf

"I put the guy who complained the most in charge of complaints and suggestions. Worked marvelously."

Tweet me at @bradleysklein for more tips on successful trip-captain planning and we’ll run it in a subsequent column.

Veteran golf travel, history and architecture journalist, Bradley S. Klein has written more than 1,500 feature articles on course architecture, resort travel, golf course development, golf history and the media for such other publications as Golfweek, Golf Digest, Financial Times, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. He has published seven books on golf architecture and history, including Discovering Donald Ross, winner of the USGA 2001 International Book Award. In 2015, Klein won the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Follow Brad on Twitter
15 Comments
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We are a group of 4 golfers and since 1990 we have played together at least once a year. Next friday we will celebrate my golf club number 1.000 in Lumine, Tarragona, Spain. I have played in 170 different countries and my friend has already 177 countries.

We have found useful to have a trophy for the winner and also something to the last one (leather jacket and drivers cap)... the looser will be driving...

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Just back from our 25th annual Golf 'til You Drop (GTYD). We have played 119 courses across 8 states over the years. This year at Ventana Canyon in Tucson. 16 guys, we play an 8 round Ryder Cup-style matchplay tournament. $200 per guy in the prize pool with CTPs, prize money for teams and individual points. Building on previous comments...we now look for resorts where we don't have to drive between courses. Delegate-- I have a competiton committee, a hospitality committee (dinners and our suite), logistics committee (bags, airport rides). One bill for all meals and the hospitality suite--I bill back everyone. We have a simple website and a nightly email blast of results for 100+ friends/fans/family. Ping me if you'd like a copy of our rules and history. Pete

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Trying to start a group would love to see your format on paper

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please send your contact info to me at petelewis27@gmail.com. happy to send our organizational docs.

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Please send rules and history. I will share my experiences with you.

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I do a trip with 20 guys (year 15) I'd like to hear the rules you play with- if you have time email them to me.

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happy to. petelewis27@gmail.com. shoot me your contact info and i'll send you our info. hopefully you can steal some ideas.

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Pete - I would like the same info, if you don't mind. I will email you.
thanks,

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Same here if you can! Thx in advance
Brad
20 yr trip captain

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This should be the definitive guide to Buddy Trips from someone who's organized more trips than anyone! Thanks Brad!

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Small groups are better. Nothing worse then 7:00 am bus departure for 24 people because some people want range time before a 9am tee time and it’s a 45 minute drive to golf course. Some will not tee off until 10:00.

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I have been organizing a golf trip for eight guys for about 32 years. We have traveled mostly to Myrtle Beach with stops in Pinehurst 4 times, Orlando, RTJ trail and St.George Utah once. We have now agreed to make a rotation of Myrtle Beach, Pinehurst and St.George. We play 36 holes per day for 5 days and 18 holes on the last day. Depending on timing of flights we have gotten in a 9 hole scramble the day of arrival. We play many games each day and they always include one team game. The eight guys are all approaching, or have past the 60 year mark so the biggest question that gets brought up every year is how long we think we will be able to do 36 holes everyday. My thought is that our first step may be to do a different format in the afternoon round but some oft the guys have really expressed interest in scoring their own ball both for their own interest and for some side bets they have. Any suggestions??

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I have been putting a Men's golf trip together since 2000. We started with four, moved to 8 and we are now at 12; my maximum! It grew because of the fun we had and everybody wanted to join in the fun. We have been to Ireland 4 times, Scotland 4 times, Pinehurst 2 times, Bandon Dunes once and Koehler, WI once. I started driving ourselves but after 2 trips, especially as the group grew, we now hire a driver. I always set up an itinerary with some fixed activities outside of golf but with ample "free time" to relax and enjoy ourselves. I have always said "it is about more than golf". In Ireland/Scotland it is easy to pick up an afternoon round if some want, while others may visit a Castle, Distillery, Brewery or just loaf around. I only schedule 18 holes a day with as close to a 10:00 AM tee time as possible and I always schedule a round on the day we arrive. We get off the plane early morning, check into our hotel and go straight to the golf course. Everybody loves this and it gets us acclimated to the local time. We usually have a net score team game for each day and for the week. We also play a net skins game each round but where it takes a birdie to win and a gross birdie trumps a net birdie. The pot is usually $5/$5/$5. I usually let each man pay for their accommodations but once we are there, I pay for the meals/drinks and divide it amongst the group when we get home. We used to move around between areas but as we grew older we now stay in the same place for a week at a time. I could go on with more information but I feel as if I've said enough. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute!

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Our group is called Golfer's Getaway and our players come from all over the USA. In the fall we go east and in the spring we go west. We all fly or drive (depending on location) in on Thursday, we play 27 holes on Friday and Saturday and the championship round on Sunday and then fly or drive home. Thursday morning we play partners best ball and in the afternoon we play a modified Ryder Cup, first 3 scramble, next best ball and lastly alternate shot. On Saturday we play partners net for the morning 18 and then we play the second half of the Ryder Cup. The championship round is individual with handicaps. We have a trophy that goes to the Champion, this is based on most money earned. We are on trip XLVIII, we have played in 15 states. I have been commissioner for the past 10 years and plan everything out, courses, hotels, airport pickups, and restaurants. Golf fees are paid for up front and hotels are paid by each individual. We split all meals between us, one bill everyone pays evenly. We play with 12 because we have found out that any larger is a little more difficult with cars and restaurants. Our spring trip this year is to Wickenburg, AZ in early May. We have printed rules and publish a write up for each trip. It is a great group and we truly look forward to the next trip.
The Commissioner.

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Any chance you would share your rules? Been trip leader 20 years. Core group bout 12...sometimes 16 or 20. Couple out of state groups join every couple years. Those extra guys change some...thought I would get lil more concrete on our rules. Thx in advance.

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Buddy trip captains: How to lead a successful group golf vacation