The State of Golf Travel Today

The pulsating thrill of U.S. and European sports competition, the promise of unrivaled golf play and, of course, spectacular greens and fairways that inspire some of the greatest swings around – this is the embodiment of the 40th Ryder Cup, which tees off on the PGA Centenary course at The Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland this week. As the New York Times said this past weekend, “The Ryder Cup remains… one of the consistently best competitions in international sport.”

With one of the most watched sports events in the world ready to launch, I started thinking about the state of golf travel today – trends, emerging destinations and the like. So I reached out to various friends and experts in the industry to get their perspectives, and their feedback proved to be quite worthwhile.

In the past decade, the popularity of golf travel has exploded resulting in a swift growth of golf development around the world. Beyond the usual golf destinations in the domestic U.S. the Caribbean and Europe, courses are emerging in Asia (particularly Southeast Asia) and the Middle East. Several of our sources emphasized that New Zealand is “hot” and likely near the top of any golf aficionado’s “bucket list” for 2015 thanks to courses the caliber of Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs.

As one luxury travel advisor reported to us, “Golf is definitely part of the international tourism strategy for one simple reason – golfers travel more and spend more money.”

Who is today’s golf traveler? While the traditional “guys getaway” to Scotland or Ireland still exists, the profile of who golfs is more far-reaching. Women have become a vital market segment with many who travel either independently or in groups, and they enjoy combining the challenge of golf play with the relaxation and indulgence of a spa.

The industry is seeing more couples (husband and wife) playing together, and they often travel with like-minded friends (generally other couples). One travel advisor pointed out that today’s golf traveler is “less focused on the cost of things but more focused on the exclusivity of the experience.”

The majority of travel advisors and hoteliers we spoke with expressed how there is a distinct growth of family travel shaped around a golf experience because it’s not just “dad’s game” anymore.

“It truly has become more of a family game” shared one advisor, because women and children are golfing more than ever before. Another echoed a similar sentiment: “I do not think there is a better pastime for families to enjoy their travel experience together than on the golf course.” Beyond the skill exhibited on the course or even who wins (although healthy competition among family members is quite energizing), there is tremendous appeal in making memories of golfing together that will last a lifetime.

From my conversations with those deeply engaged in the golf travel segment, these are several noteworthy trends in the marketplace:

  • In pursuit of authentic and local experiences, today’s golf travelers increasingly seek access to private golf clubs globally.
  • There is a rise in golf by private jet and heli-golf trips which allow golfers to maximize their opportunities by playing in multiple locales (even more than one country) with ease and convenience.
  • Younger professionals are in search of golf destinations so they can unwind from the stress of their lifestyle and then return home reinvigorated.
  • To not only maintain but cultivate the consumer market, golf resorts are further investing in attracting their guests to engage in some level of the game. As noted in the cover story of the October 2014 issue of PGA Magazine, “If it’s not playing the course, it’s hitting range balls, practicing putting, taking lessons, playing PGA Family Tees, enjoying miniature golf, or even getting their kicks by playing This new version of golf travel might look different, but non-traditional golf activities are helping many resorts and destinations fill the gaps in their tee sheets and drive revenue – while growing the game.”

I’m confident that the desirability of golf travel will continue to soar – there is rising consumer demand, and the market is responding.

As the greens-keepers, chefs, housekeeping department, and the entire team at Gleneagles make the final touches before being featured on the world stage, I thought you might enjoy watching a short clip from acclaimed photographer Jason Bell, which celebrates the return of the Ryder Cup to Scotland for the first time since 1973. And more than that, the first friendly get together of U.S. and U.K. golf professionals took place at Gleneagles in 1921 giving rise to the famous tournament and coveted Cup, so it is truly a homecoming. Here is the link.

Who do you think will claim the coveted trophy this year?