CHARLOTTE, N.C. - You know that golf trip to Spain you always wanted to take? Well, what are you waiting for? Sure, we've all seen better economic days. And traveling via airplane may sound as enticing as Tiger Woods and even money in the 2003 Masters.
But it stands to reason that if you are hurting, and the guy in the next cubicle is hurting and even the high-roller with the window office is hurting, then the golf travel industry is smarting a bit, too. This collective pain can actually be translated into an economical vacation to some enchanting golf destination abroad.
A number of foreign markets currently offer exchange rates on the American dollar that would inspire even the most tight-fisted, air travel hating hacker at your country club to book a golf trip to Ireland while humming that catchy jingle from United Airlines and signing up for frequent flyer miles.
"There are some incredible values to be realized in Europe right now, and airfares in the shoulder seasons can be affordable," says Brian Gowdy of Atlanta-based Europe Golf Travel. "Spain and Portugal are always the best value, and with the exchange rate the way it is, it is even better. Both of them are hotbeds of golf."
According to OANDA.com, the current exchange rate for the U.S. Dollar to the EURO is only is 1 to 1.13, but Gowdy says that there are other factors that are just as important to consider when planning an international golf trip.
"You have to look at the overall price of goods and services, and Spain and Portugal are very affordable places to live and do business," he says. "That will always be translated to you, the golf traveler. You can't put all your eggs in the exchange rate basket, because sometimes they will work the other way and bite you in the butt."
Typically in South Africa, it's the crocodiles that do the biting, and not the exchange rates. But for those willing to brave the wildlife and the tumultuous nature of the country's politics, a golfing playground awaits where the U.S. Dollar is the unofficial leader. The current exchange rate for the U.S Dollar to the South African Rand is one to 11 - an eye-popping clip that may even have PGA Tour pros Ernie Els and Retief Goosen reconsidering their relocation to the states.
"Americans can travel to South Africa and experience our best accommodations, golf courses and cuisine at a fraction of what it would cost to travel to other parts of the world," says Andre McDonald, Tour Director for Adonai Golf Tours in South Africa. "July through September is our winter, but it is surprisingly warm and with little rain or wind, which makes for superb golfing conditions."
Closer to home, Canada is beckoning golfers across the border with its impressive lineup of scenic, championship caliber layouts, favorable exchange rate, and cool, crisp summers. The exchange rate, currently 1 U.S. Dollar to 1.6 Canadian, has favored Yanks for sometime now. And according to Jim Lee Director of the Canadian Golf Tourism Alliance, Canada golf was affordable even before the U.S. Dollar gained its clout.
"Generally speaking, even in Canadian dollars, our green fees here are cheaper than they are in America," Lee says. "The highest green fee in the country is $225 and in the U.S. that course would be close to $300. Add in the exchange rate and you can play that for $135, and that is what you'd pay for a middle of the road resort course in the states."
Evidently, this fact is not lost on the American golfer. Lee says the seven tour operators that work in conjunction with the CGTA are forecasting near-record bookings for this summer. This number should rise significantly in May and June, Lee adds. A bundle of Canadian golf destinations, such as British Columbia's Whistler and Quebec's Tremblant are accessible by car from Washington, Oregon, and New York and set up well for the drive market.
"We have invested considerably in the drive market this year, because that is how we feel the golfers will be getting here," Lee says. "But with the drive market, reservations tend to come in just a few weeks before the trip, rather than a few months with the fly market, so we won't really know how good a summer season we are having until we are in the middle of it."
Not all borders are so inviting, however. Mexico is home to some of the world's most sublime golf resorts, and the exchange rate -- currently one U.S. Dollar to nine Pesos -- has favored Gringos for years. But golf travel industry professionals will be the first to tell you that Mexican golf is not a panacea for the financially challenged.
"Most of the great courses down there are American owned by companies like Troon Golf, and they charge upwards of $300," says Jim Otsby of Travel Golf West. "Truth be told, you are getting to play some of the best golf courses in the world. But they are charging accordingly, and the bang for the buck isn't enough to attract hordes of Americans in this economy."
Sometimes you have to think outside of the tee box to come up with affordable, off the wall golf destinations. Here are a few from the WorldGolf.com archives to whet your appetite:
April 11, 2002
Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.
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