Tiger Woods is playing in four majors in 2020. How many will you attend? Increasingly, golf travelers want to attend majors and the Ryder Cup. With fat and ever-growing 401k accounts in their back pocket and a great economy, golfers are going to aggressively pursue their bucket list golf travel dreams next year.
Baby Boomers are still driving most golf travel trends, however, younger golfers are beginning to impact changes in resort amenities and golf package itineraries.
1. Major Event Trips
It’s so tempting to think lounging on your sofa with a brewksi and chips watching your 85 inch big screen is just like being there. It’s not. More golfers are attacking their bucket lists and attending majors like the Masters, Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and and The Open Championship. Apparently, they don’t want to miss the thunderous roars, epic golf shots and time-honored traditions at these events. While individual tickets are difficult to obtain (especially for the Masters and Ryder Cup), several golf travel companies offer packages that include tickets, accommodations, daily breakfast, transportation and more. Atlanta-based Premier Golf, who has hosted golf travelers to the Ryder Cup since 1991, also has a variety of packages for other major events.
2. Northern Ireland
Still basking in the glow from its wildly successful hosting of the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, this golf happy region has benefited immensely from its exposure. Phenomenal golf courses, fantastic seaside villages, whisky distillery tours and amazing sights are some of the reasons Northern Ireland is so popular. With The Open, it finally got the world-wide exposure it so richly deserves. Royal County Down, No. 1 on Golf Digest’s World’s 100 Greatest Courses, has received unprecedented demand since The Open. In response, they’re opening the course for October 2020 (It’s usually closed during this time). Heading the list of other places to play in the region are Royal Portrush, Portstewart, Lough Erne, Castlerock and Ardglass.
3. Short Courses Are All The Rage
To accommodate aging Baby Boomers and time-pressed GenXers and Millennials , short courses are popping up like dandelions after a spring time shower. Instead of committing 4 to 6 hours for an 18-hole round, more resorts are giving guests a great option for a high-quality golf experience in two hours or less. These aren’t hastily designed layouts thrown together on a cocktail napkin, either. Top golf course architects are creating these thoroughly playable and enjoyable layouts. Gil Hanse fashioned the nine-hole, 789-yard Cradle at Pinehurst Resort. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed the 13-hole Preserve at Bandon Dunes. None other than the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, created the nine-hole, par-3 Top of the Rock course at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson. Other excellent short courses at resorts are the 17-hole Sandbox at Sand Valley in Wisconsin and the Horse Course at the Prairie Club in Nebraska. My favorite short course I play regularly is the Winter Park 9 in downtown Winter Park near Orlando, a Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb design.
4. Terrific Trip Enhancements
Whiskey tastings, pub crawls, kilt nights, movie and T.V. site tours and restaurant dine-arounds are just a few of the many activities golf packagers are placing in their itineraries. While the golf buddy trip with a “golf till you drop attitude” is still popular with some, golfers are seeking more balance in their golf vacations. After the courses to play are selected, golf packaging experts say golfers want more activities where they can create lifelong memories away from the fairways. More Baby Boomers want to travel with their non-golf playing spouse and younger golfers who want a more varied overall travel experience are driving this trend.
5. New Zealand
While it’s a 16-hour flight from Chicago to Aukland, more golf travelers are willing to make the long, arduous sojourn. The reasons are many: Phenomenally scenic golf courses, gorgeous beaches, ruggedly beautiful mountains, spectacular glaciers, wine tours and a golf knowledgeable citizenry make it a special golf vacation destination. Highly respected golf architects like Tom Doak, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Jack Nicklaus have capitalized on New Zealand’s amazing topography to design drop dead gorgeous courses near either snow capped mountains or pristine coastal stretches. For golfers who love wine, New Zealand is nirvana. There are 12 wine regions with lots of great winery tours. Many wine critics consider New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc among the best in the world. Some of the more popular course to play are Cape Kidnappers Golf Club, Kauri Cliffs, Kinloch Golf Club, Jack’s Point and Tara Iti Golf Club.
6. Branson, Missouri
Billing itself as the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World”, Branson has welcomed numerous celebrity entertainers to perform in its 37 theaters. Big names like Andy Williams, Roy Clark and the Gatlin Brothers have performed in Branson, which has more than 80 live shows daily. The newest Branson marquee name is Tiger Woods, who has designed Payne’s Valley, which honors the late Payne Stewart, an Ozarks native. Slated for a grand Opening in June 2020, it’s Woods’ first public U.S. golf course. Golf writers who’ve been on-site are already raving about the creative hole designs and playability of the course, which is brimming with limestone outcropping, high-profile water features and stunning green complexes. Tiger joins an impressive list of designers with courses in Branson — Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Woods, the ultimate celebrity needle mover, will create lots of buzz for Branson golf in 2020 as will Coore and Crenshaw’s Ozarks National, which is ranked No. 1 on Golf Digest’s “Best New Public Courses 2019”.
7. Emerging Destinations
Southeast Asia is bullish on golf as a way to attract more tourists and countries like Vietnam and Cambodia are building American-style, multi-amenity resorts. In fact, Cambodia recently was tabbed the “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year” by the IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators). Recently opened in Vietnam is the Hoiana Shores Golf Club, located about 45 minutes south of Da Nang International Airport. Part of a $4 billion resort complex, the stunning Robert Trent Jones II course is a wonderland of spectacular dunes and sand pine terrain. In Cambodia, the Vattanac Golf Resort, 15 miles from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, recently debuted a Nick Faldo designed 18 hole course with a second course to open early 2020. Other emerging destinations include South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico and Iceland.
8. Golf-Centric Resorts
For those who want to play more than one great course on a golf vacation without having to change hotel rooms and take long van rides, these bastions of golf with multiple courses by highly respected designers are popular and getting even more so. Heading the list of my favorites are Bandon Dunes Resort, Pebble Beach Resorts, Pinehurst Resort, Destination Kohler, Streamsong Resort and Sea Island Resort. Among the many enticements at these resorts are top-notch caddie programs and exemplary service designed to accommodate dedicated golfers’ needs and desires.
9. The Gil Hanse Effect
If you’re looking for some serious fairway cred, tell people you just played a Hanse course. Arguably, the hottest golf course designer right now, Gil Hanse is on a roll. Golfers absolutely love playing his courses, which are playable for all skill levels. He’s a hands-on designer whose courses are visually appealing, innovative and sophisticated in strategy. Some of his best designs you can play are TPC Boston (Massachusetts), Streamsong Resort Black Course (Florida), Castle Stuart Golf Links (Scotland), Crail Golfing Society Craighead Links (Scotland), Pinehurst No. 4 (North Carolina) and Pinehurst Cradle Short Course (North Carolina).
10. Dumbarnie Links Near St Andrews
St Andrews is going to get even more popular. Scheduled to debut in spring 2020, the upscale, daily-fee course will give golf travelers another great reason to visit this wonderful region in Fife. Think of amazing modern Scottish layouts like Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart and you’ll have an image of the quality and dramatic look of Dumbarnie. Designed by Clive Clark, the Dumbarnie has a mile and half of sea frontage with views of the Firth of Forth. Fourteen of the holes will have views of the Bay and the Firth of Forth. The design incorporates three potentially driveable Par-4s and will range in yardage from 5,300 to 6,900 with a special set of professional tees that can stretch the course to 7,600 yards.