Don't think you can sneak in a round of golf on a family vacation? Try these tips

I’ve cracked the code on the largest problem golfers encounter on family vacations.

You know the one: How to scratch that golf itch without getting in trouble. It’s tricky business, but it’s an issue I’ve been forced to deal with on a regular basis. My job REQUIRES I play while on the road, sometimes even on vacation (stop whining, right?). Neither my two children nor my wife likes golf, so I’ve had to learn a few tricks to find time for a round without ruining anybody else’s fun.

Let’s face it. During the prime kid years, buddies trips become less frequent. All of your vacation time and money is spent on the family. If you want to play, you’ve got to get creative. Here’s how:

Set the alarm

Nobody likes to get up before dawn on vacation, but if you want to play that badly, it’s a necessary sacrifice. I regularly play golf early before everyone gets up. I prefer being the first tee time of the day as a single. Yes, all the caveats of being first off apply – it’s cold, the ball doesn’t roll out on dewy fairways or greens, the maintenance crew can be a nuisance, etc. – but I’m also off the course by 10:30 a.m. before anybody has even had breakfast. Even if you tee off in a foursome before 8 a.m., you should be done by noon, leaving the afternoon open for that family bonding adventure.

Family time at the range or putting green

My family doesn’t mind a little golf fix on vacation. My wife and children will visit the range and putting green with me to hit some balls and play a few putting/chipping games. The key is to make it lighthearted and fun. No swing tips. No messing with anybody's grip or stance. Just let them goof around and experiment. You might not get to play the course you wanted, if this is your only 'round' on vacation, but maybe one of your children will get the bug.

I usually let my wife skip this adventure to do something more relaxing, i.e. reading a book or hanging out at the pool. The old strategy of divide and conquer works great on vacation, so everybody gets their space.

Play a family twilight nine

Many resorts and courses allow children to play free or at a reduced rate with a paying adult in the afternoon when business is slow. This is the perfect time to play a little golf and have a little fun with the kiddos. When my son was younger, I would pack pockets full of candy or snacks. Every time he got bored or agitated, I would pull out a new "surprise."

Again, keep things stress free. Anybody who wants to drop a ball to hit a shot and then pick up can do so without remorse. I always play every shot and keep score even though nobody else does. Just enjoy the outdoors and company. A golf addiction many blossom from there.

If my children say they don’t want to go, I dangle the five magic words in front of them: "You can drive the cart." Works every time.

Find a family-friendly destination first, golf second

The kids probably won't notice you're gone all morning at Omni La Costa, which has a water complex for kids, an arcade and more.

The kids won't even notice you're gone all morning at Omni La Costa Resort in San Diego.

If you’re sensing a theme in this article, it’s about compromise. You probably want a weekend at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, but you've got to remember that the wife and children will be happier at the beach. Let them pick the destination. You’ll find golf whenever you go. I’ve been to Disney – both the California and Florida versions – more times than I care to count. I’m not necessarily a fan, but I’ve always been able to find a good course nearby.

If Kiawah Island Golf Resort or the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa are beyond your budget, then point your compass toward Myrtle Beach, S.C. or Gulf Shores, Ala., which have great beaches, golf and plenty of family activities.

'Wow' them with off-course attractions

Sometimes there's just no getting around a tee time on a bucket-list course that will take you out of commission.

On our only family vacation overseas - London and Paris - I scheduled a 36-hole day at Royal St. George's Golf Club and Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, leaving the family to fend for themselves in London. I didn't take much heat from my wife because they were in a city so foreign and cool, they really didn't miss dad too much.

Don't just leave your spouse with the kids without an interesting itinerary and say 'good luck'! My family will let me check out for an extended period of time if they've got a trip to Disney or something else exciting lined up. The key is finding something so fun that nobody notices you're gone. They'll be thrilled to talk about their day when you reconnect at dinner.

Give your spouse the same serenity time that golf gives you

Vacation should be about recharging the body and soul to fight the battles of everyday life when you get home. Golf is my escape. I try to deliver a similar escape for my wife. She loves a good spa treatment. If I play golf in the morning, I’ll get her a spa appointment that afternoon (or the next morning). That way she gets a half-day to unwind just like I did on the course.

Maybe your spouse would rather go horseback riding or take a cooking class. Whatever keeps him/her feeling good, book it. It might be expensive. You might get stuck on kid duty. The goodwill is worth it. Your scorecard will thank me later.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Commented on

Christmas holiday this year in San Diego. Dropped the family (Wife and 2 kids) off at Legoland and played The Crossings right around the corner. Breakfast, 18 holes and a cold one after the round. By then all were ready to head back to the hotel. Perfect day

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Don't think you can sneak in a round of golf on a family vacation? Try these tips