I'm predicting 2017 will be a great golf travel year. Last week (November 14-18), the U.S. dollar was at its highest rate in 14 years so American travelers will, no doubt, take advantage of this promising turn of events. Plus, golf travel is easier than ever to plan with new technologies no matter where you are in the world.
Here are the Golf Travel Guru's top 10 travel trends for 2017:
1. Combo Golf Trips--While the buddy/friends trip to Scotland and Ireland will continue its seemingly never ending popularity, golf travelers taking couples or multi-generation trips are increasingly opting for packages that can include everything from wine and whiskey tastings to safaris and luxury cruises. An itinerary packed with 18 to 36 holes a day is still appealing to golf fanatics, however, casual golfers who love to travel and play are enhancing trips with varied activities in between rounds. In addition, planning a golf vacation around a major event like the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup or Major like the Open Championship, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and The Masters is becoming more prevalent.
2. Luxury Golf Cruises--Various golf travel companies are highlighting luxury cruising as the main source of travel to play great golf courses. For instance, Premier Golf is offering an 11-night excursion aboard the the $450 million Regent Seven Seas Explorer, the most expensive luxury liner ever built. The uber-luxurious ship will make stops in golf capitals like Edinburgh, Scotland, Liverpool, England and Dublin and Cork in Ireland. On the play list are world class layouts like Royal County Down and the European Club.
3. Year of The Grape--If you like wine and golf like I do, ya gotta wonder what took destinations so long to put them together in packages. Countries that are heavily promoting incorporating wine experiences like tours and tastings with golf are Australia, South Africa, Italy, France, New Zealand and the U.S. (Napa Valley and Sonoma in California and Oregon). In the past year I've been to Napa/Sonoma, Italy and South Africa and I can fully attest that superb wines and great golf are an excellent pairing.
4. New Destinations--While I'm probably missing a few, my list of emerging golf destinations includes Bulgaria, Turkey, Sweden, Vietnam, Italy, Malaysia and China.
5. Pacific Rim Appeal--After obligatory visits to Scotland and Ireland have been made and new frontiers beckon, the Pacific Rim is an increasingly popular option. Destinations like New Zealand and Australia offer scenic and challenging courses as well as great wines and countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and China have lately become very bullish on golf.
6. New Booking Technology--It's getting much easier to book a golf vacation with just a few clicks on your own. Golf Voyager, an Ireland-based company, recently debuted a platform to book fully customizable golf packages in real time with immediate confirmation. The easy-to-use, do-it-yourself design combines golf, hotel and transportation options into packages that can be altered to fit your specific needs with confirmed pricing immediately at check-out. I believe you'll start seeing their widget on on many tourism bureau sites. They offer great rates and Golf Voyager is very simple and user-friendly. The software is up and running for Spain and Portugal and will be followed by Ireland, U.K., U.S.A. and other destinations.
7. Social Media Arrives--Social media is increasingly a huge influencer in golf travel decisions. Instead of a flashy ad or video, travelers are investigating how their peers evaluate particular airlines, hotels and golf courses. More travelers or relying on user-generated reviews at sites like TripAdvisor, GolfAdvisor, Oyster and Yelp to make their decisions. Moreover, travelers are influenced by posts and remarks on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus.
8. The Masters--The popularity of the Masters increases every year and more people want to immerse among the azaleas and pines even if it just means a practice round day. Trust me, whether you attend a Tuesday or Wednesday practice day or the entire tournament week, it's a phenomenal, memorable golf experience. From "The Big Oak Tree' and green and white umbrellas on the patio behind the clubhouse to the amazingly inexpensive 1970s concession prices, there's nothing in the golf universe quite like Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters tournament. Some of the companies offering Masters packages that I recommend include Georgia Sports and Premier Golf Travel.
9. Alternative Accommodations--Multi-amenity golf resorts are still the most desired accommodations, however, experienced, intrepid travelers are increasingly considering private vacation homes and Airbnb as other options, especially for extended stays. Now, it's easier than ever to book a private home, room in a home or an apartment.
10.Bucket List Adventures--While greens fee prices keep climbing, bucket list courses like Pebble Beach and The Old Course at St. Andrews are actually increasing in popularity. In the U.S., topping the list are Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, TPC THE PLAYERS Sawgrass, Whistling Straits, Bethpage Black, Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Streamsong Resort. Internationally, courses like Royal Troon and Muirfield in Scotland, Royal County Down and Ballybunion in Ireland, Royal St. George in England, Valderrama in Spain, Fancourt Links in South Africa, Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, Royal Melbourne in Australia, Banff Springs and Cabot Links in Canada and Vale do Lobo in Portugal are Bucket List favorites.