AYRSHIRE, Scotland - Gathering in the bar after a round on the Old Course at Royal Troon Golf Club should be cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, for a handful of golfers I was traveling with last week, it was a chance to commiserate over their misfortunes. Not bad bounces and bogeys. Worse: lost clubs and luggage.
After two years of being cooped up by a pandemic, golfers are hitting the road again in droves, especially to bucket-list destinations like Scotland and Ireland. Too bad the airlines didn't get the memo. Flying is more hectic and stressful than ever. Both airlines and airports blame staff shortages for their ongoing issues to start a summer travel season full of flight cancellations and delays, long waits and lost luggage.
Don't let their drama ruin your dream golf trip. Now more than ever, I can't recommend enough using a service like Ship Sticks to make sure your clubs arrive on time. Nobody wants to blame bad scores at a Top-100 course on rental clubs and spend what should be a memorable trip worrying about when the real sticks might arrive.
When to use Ship Sticks
I was one of the lucky ones. British Airways didn't lose my clubs either en route to Glasgow International Airport or on the way home to San Jose. But the travel experience still punished me in other ways, with a canceled flight and a 2 1/2-hour delay on the way home. That's still better than lost clubs.
There seemed to be a pattern to the people I talked to about their missing luggage. These are the scenarios where using Ship Sticks seems like a no-brainer:
* A connection in a problematic airport. For years, I've heard the same story over and over from golfers. If you're traveling through London's Heathrow Airport, odds are strong your clubs won't make the connecting flight. Recent media reports suggest the issue has gotten much, much worse. When I started hearing about the chaos at Heathrow, I wanted to use Ship Sticks, but unfortunately, I was too close to my departure date to guarantee an on-time arrival. I was forced to roll the dice with the airlines and fortunately won the lottery. Not everybody is so lucky. We met one poor golfer in the bar at Troon who was on his second week playing trophy links around Scotland without his clubs. Ugh. In America, big airports in Chicago, New York and Atlanta have the same bad rep as Heathrow. Flier beware.
* A connection involving two different carriers. This is probably the worst-case scenario for any flier. The airlines will point fingers at one another about who screwed up. When you try to find your lost luggage or send in receipts for reimbursement after it's found, the denials and blame game will get more confusing. Two of my colleagues are still missing luggage, even though they're already home from the trip.
* A flight on a budget airline. Yep, you get what you pay for. If you try to skimp on airfares, you're more likely to get burned when you need that airline to provide some good old customer service.
The best packing tip I can offer from my most recent experience would be to wear golf-ready street shoes to the airport and to pack other essentials in a carry on - clothes, rain suit, rain gloves and some necessary golf gear (a glove, tees, balls, ball marker, hat and range finder) - to make sure you have as many of the basic essentials as possible to play if the clubs don't arrive.
How to use Ship Sticks
I used Ship Sticks when I moved from Michigan to California in 2014. A UPS driver showed up at my house, scanned the shipping label attached to my travel bag and hauled it away. Four days later, it was delivered to my new front porch. No hauling it through the airport. No waiting at the baggage claim carousel. No stuffing it in a rental car.
Most golfers tend to ship their clubs (and/or golf luggage) directly to the resort or course they're playing first on their trip.
Ship Sticks - which also ships luggage and winter sports gear such as snowboards and skis - touts that its tracking system delivers a higher on-time delivery rate (99.7%) than either UPS or FedEx (about 98.8%). Should something happen, Ship Sticks does offer consequential insurance that allows golfers to rent clubs and shoes and buy balls and a glove, plus $1,000 additional insurance for any lost bag.
As an extra level of protection, I've put an Apple AirTag into my golf bag. Through the "Find My Friends" app, I could see where my bag was at all times. It made my 30-minute wait for luggage at the Glasgow airport much more relaxed and stress-free. I could see that the clubs had made my connecting flight in Heathrow and were located nearby. On my way home, I did the same thing, checking my app to see that my clubs had made my connecting flight to San Jose.
Shipping with Ship Sticks can cost as little as $39-$59 depending on the distance to the destination and the time frame needed for arrival. Obviously, for an overseas adventure, the price will be much higher.
For those who worry about the cost, think of it this way. It's already expensive to take your clubs on the plane thanks to baggage fees - British Airways charged me $65 each way - so why not pay to guarantee they actually make it? If you just can't justify the cost both ways, at least ship them one way. This strategy would have cost me $215 to send them directly to Dundonald, my home base for the trip, according to an estimate from the Ship Sticks website.
If your clubs get delayed or lost on the way home, that's something any golfer can live with. At least they didn't miss that magical round at Prestwick or Troon.
Have the airlines lost your clubs? Have you tried Ship Sticks instead? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.