Chasing The White Ball

Golf: Adventure packages can put the avid duffer on course to tee off in some of the most exotic spots on the globe

June 13, 1999|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If embarking on an adventure vacation sets your heart aflutter, but leaving your golf clubs behind makes it break a little, cheer up. You can indulge both passions in one trip.

Call it Tiger Woods meets Marco Polo.

Adventure outfitters and golf tour companies are teaming up to satisfy a booming demand for excursions that combine the excitement of soft adventure and the thrill of great golf.

It's the baby boomers, of course. With an estimated seven people a minute turning 50, an increasing number of travelers who used to seek out wild green spaces, now are searching for places with wildish greens -- golfing greens. Boomers who once sniffed at any activity less demanding than a mountain climb have redefined adventure travel as anything a bit unpredictable that entails some roughing it. And golf's unpredictable roughs certainly qualify.

According to the National Golf Foundation, a trade organization based in Jupiter, Fla., more than 10 million Americans are traveling to play golf, with the number growing by more than 6 percent annually. Increasingly, golfers are seeking more exotic locales than the traditional manicured courses in clubby environs. Sure they want a good game of golf, but they want it with breathtaking views -- of forests, mountains, deserts or ocean shores -- that add a dose of a different culture.

"There's a big bragging-rights factor," says Cindi Crain, editor of Golf & Travel, a bimonthly magazine that reports on emerging and unusual golf destinations and trends. "What golfer wouldn't want to say, 'I played at the highest course in the world' or 'I played in Borneo right alongside the orangutans?' "

Today's golf travelers are teeing off at such diverse resorts as Bali's Handara Country Club, which snakes through mountain jungles where monkeys chatter in the tree tops; the Caribbean's Four Seasons Nevis Resort, where goats and donkeys roam a course that winds around a rainforest against a backdrop of seething Mount Nevis; and Georgia's lush Cloister/Sea Island Golf Club, set on a barrier island that's between marshland and the Atlantic Ocean and is home to massive oaks dripping Spanish moss.

More ambitious types are hitting the fairways during far-flung hiking adventures, gourmet dining and wining excursions, or cruises to Singapore, Vietnam or Africa that include on-board instruction and tournaments at clubs en route.

"We're entering a whole new, much more exciting world of golf vacationing," says Nick Niles, past president of Golf magazine, who has developed a Golf Adventure program for the eco-outfitter Off the Beaten Path. Long known for its hiking, birding and cross-country skiing journeys, the company recently launched Golf Adventures to the American West after determining that many of its clients were avid golfers as well as inveterate nature travelers. Why not snag the lucrative business inherent in both passions, the company figured.

"Our research showed that many of our clients want trips that are intellectually and culturally stimulating, but that also feed their golf cravings," says Niles. "As baby boomers age, their interest in nature vacations and in gentler ways of experiencing the wilds overlap. Golf Adventures fill the bill."

Throughout each trip, golf and environmental explorations are integrated, with historians and naturalists -- as well as golf pros -- accompanying the group. A plus is that non-golfing companions have plenty of activities to pursue while their partners are hitting the greens.

Off the Beaten Path's programs take in the canyons, cactuses and desert blooms around Tucson, Ariz., the mountain scenery and bear habitats of Montana's Glacier National Park, and the vast wildlands around Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Sun Valley, Idaho.

Off the Beaten Path is not alone in mining dramatic environs for golf gratification.

Wide World of Golf, a California company, has introduced an African Golf Safari that combines golfing around Capetown and Johannesburg in South Africa and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (where wildlife on the course includes hundreds of wart hogs) with a three-day wildlife safari in Kruger National Park, explorations around Capetown's wine country and a boat trip on the Zambezi River alongside Victoria Falls' dramatic cascades.

Other innovative Wide World of Golf tours include an Italian Golf and Cooking School program in Tuscany, which combines daily rounds and cooking classes with owner-chefs at top Tuscan restaurants; and a Scandinavian Midnight Sun Golf Tour, where golfers get a chance to play at midnight at courses in Sweden and Finland as well as explore Finland's vast lake country.

As Jan. 1, 2000 dawns, participants in the company's Millennium Golf Tournament in New Zealand will have the distinction of playing on the first golf course in the world that sees the sun each day -- hence, the first golf tournament of the new millennium.

Next on the agenda? Golf tours to China, India, even Moscow -- which now has two courses.

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