Golf course familiarity runs contrary to the well tread relationship-tarring adage. Rather than contempt, playing the same courses over and over again tends to breed lower scores.
After logging dozens of rounds on a track, the lay of the land yields far fewer surprises as course knowledge become encyclopedic and the confidence of experience informs club selection and other strategic decisions.
Still, after a couple years of racking up rounds in your neck of the woods and seeing the same holes over and over again, many avid golfers begin to develop an itch to spread their wings, take their sticks out on the road and chase some strange. Put it this way, if course fidelity was a normative behavior and there was an Ashley Madison for guys looking to be a little less faithful to the well tread turfgrass of their local muni, it’d be as massive a success as Bandon Dunes.
I’ve gone coast-to-coast, on down south, and crossed the pond on a couple occasions while pursuing flying spheres down immaculately conditioned fairways with bodacious backdrops of magnificent Mountain ranges, Smurf-blue seas, and prickly scorched earth desert dreamscapes. While my highlight reel includes tony resort-side stunners, ballyhooed posh European spreads, and a bevy of PGA TOUR stops, having only been bitten by the travel golf bug a mere half decade ago, in numerical terms I’ve only sampled a small piece of world’s golf pie.
David Wood, author of Around the World in 80 Rounds certainly has my slice beat.
“I played in 22 countries when traveling for my book and I’ve additionally played in another 20 or so countries as well,” he relates. “I’m sure I’ve played more than 500 courses in my golfing life.”
And on a swing through South America Wood keened into the locals’ respect for the integrity and flow of the game. “Having the honor on the tee is a big deal [there] and they love to hit in turn. No ready golf there. They love the formality of the game (as do I).”
Abandoned spouses may speculate that the allure of packing up and jetting off has more to do with ditching family for a few days of frolicking with their green-eyed mistress than feeding a real spiritual need. But those who regularly take clubs-in-tow vacations have come to respect that the pursuit of gobsmackingly brilliant golf in less familiar environs vaults their appreciation and understanding of the game to a completely new level. Travel golfers’ passions run as deep as oenophiles nosing, swishing and savoring an award winning Bordeaux.
Now, the length of time of playing avidly before the tingles to travel begin is a source of debate. “I think it's more like a three-month itch,” weighs in Jason Deegan, senior staff writer at GolfAdvisor.com (a property owned by The Golf Channel) who has done his fair share of itch scratching.
“I've played roughly 800 courses in 15 countries. I actually started keeping track about five years ago once I realized the numbers of courses I had played was growing so quickly.”
Confining Deegan, whose exploits you can follow under the twitter handle @WorldGolfer, to the offerings that populate his backyard would sap his spirit of its joie de vivre, leaving him as empty and hollow as a sneaker connoisseur restricted for eternity to a single pair of Air Jordans.
“I love my job because of the variety of courses I get to play,” he explains. “I could never play all my golf at one course. While there are benefits to doing so - a lower handicap, local knowledge on where to hit it - the wonder of trying to solve the puzzle of a new course is too much fun.”
“I’ve always been drawn to golf in exotic locales like the bottom of South America and the Ushuaia Golf Club for example. The more remote and more difficult to travel to, the better. It’s great fun to go to countries that aren’t known as golf locales like Laos or Nepal or Turkey and see how the game has taken root there.”
Most golfers, myself included, have encountered course critters in the form of fleet footed deer and foxes, rattlers, rabbits, and gators, but there are bigger game that roam the rough in some parts of the world.
“I came across two huge kangaroos while playing by myself in Perth, Australia. I know kangaroos are supposed to be cute and cuddly, but these two looked like a couple of longshoremen with a score to settle,” reminisces Wood. “They were right on the tee-box and were eyeing me like they were going to rough me up and steal my clubs. I teed off quick and got the heck out of there.”
A fringe benefit of golf travel is the absence of performance anxiety. Scorecard tallies are always an afterthought on golf trips. It’s really more about soaking up the scenery than shooting for new milestones. In the end, these sojourns boil down to the journey, the fellowship, and the thrill of experiencing extraordinary courses far removed from the well tread territory of your stomping grounds. Besides, even if you ring up a really high number like Tiger did at Muirfield Village this past June, you can always chock it up to never having played the course before, an excuse that wasn’t at Mr.Woods’ disposal.
An edited version of my above story first ran in Golf Canada Magazine