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Hitting the Links in Exotic Foreign Locales

Play golf one day, visit a tropical rainforest the next

Unique Golf Vacations excursion to South Africa.

For Bill and Pat Henderson, golf vacations are a great way to see the world while playing a sport they enjoy. They are part of a growing number of Calgarians who are travelling the globe pursuing their passion on unique and interesting golf courses.

Imagine a round of golf and then visiting a rainforest in Borneo. Or playing on a picturesque course in Argentina before chilling back with a glass of fine red Malbec wine. Or testing your skills on the legendary St. Andrews course in Scotland.

Typically, the Hendersons’ golf holidays see them travelling with good friends and home club members in groups ranging from eight to 20.

“We’ve been very fortunate to play golf at many places around the world – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Thailand, Ireland, Scotland as well as several specific golf destinations in Canada and the U.S.,” says Bill Henderson, who was interviewed while travelling to Vietnam for a two-week golf sojourn with other Silver Springs Golf & Country Club members.

“We find that golf holidays are a great way to add variety to a trip – one day we will be playing golf, the next day we will be touring the city or countryside to appreciate the local geography, culture and cuisine. As we usually travel with a group, we find everyone has that common interest which enhances both the conversation and general enjoyment,” says Henderson.

The burgeoning growth in golfers going abroad for holidays has been great for the local travel industry. Clients have money to spend and they’re not afraid to spend it on golf courses around the world.

Reid Morrison, who has operated Incredible Journeys Travel in Calgary since 2005, says golf is popular and the trips he plans are to such places as Argentina, Vietnam, South Africa, Cambodia, Thailand, Bali, Kenya, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Scotland, Costa Rica, Panama, New Zealand and England.

“Typically you’ve got two different types of travellers. You’ve got the diehard golf-every-day travellers and the other group is really people who use golf as an excuse to travel as a group. That’s quite popular with the clubs,” says Morrison. “They want to do more than just golf on a holiday, but they still like the camaraderie and the socialization that the club gives them.”

For golfers, these trips are ideal. They combine their love of sport with sightseeing and experiencing the culture of a country. Sometimes they play iconic courses like St. Andrews but they’re just thrilled to experience the scenery and the challenges of different types of golf courses these exotic countries have to offer.

Michael Ho, owner of Unique Golf Vacations in Calgary, says golf tours can range in price from $4,000 to more than $6,500. Ho’s packages have included trips all over the world including China.

“I deal with the different golf pros here in town. I create a program for them that they offer to their memberships to travel with them in the wintertime. The golf pro will go with a group of 16 or 24 people,” says Ho. “We don’t sacrifice cultural enjoyment. So when we go to a country, we will see and experience what there is to see. And I just slot in the golf.”

At the end of February, a group from the Winston Golf Club in Calgary was headed to Malaysia with a side trip to Borneo to spend two nights in a tropical rainforest.

Shawn Lavoie, general manager at the Winston, has worked with Ho over the years to organize trips for club members to places such as South Africa, Vietnam and Cambodia.

“We’ve looked at New Zealand and I can see that being a destination at some point but it’s expensive. We’ll let the economy recover before we start pitching that one I think. Australia might be a possibility. Argentina might get a look. Colombia – there’s some opportunity there. What we’re doing is trying to put together unique trips,” says Lavoie.

Dennis Schmidt and his wife, Ruth, have been on many golf vacations organized by Ho over the years. “Golf courses are one of the better places to spend a lot of time because they’re nice and green,” he says. “They’re quiet. I haven’t run into a golfer yet who wasn’t friendly…. We like it because it’s a break from the traditional sightseeing you might do, but also while going to a golf course you see a ton of countryside.”

David Gottlieb loves to golf in British Columbia and is part of a small group that spends about four days each year at the Radium Springs course or the Mountainside and the Riverside courses in Fairmont. And like many Calgarians who have embraced closer destinations in the U.S., Gottlieb tries to get down to Georgia and Phoenix to golf.

“The Georgia trip and the Phoenix trip break up the winter. But I do love the golf for sure. I absolutely love the sport. I find golf a real challenge and I just have a passion for it,” he explains.

Calgary business professional Dan Moro says most of his holidays are planned with his family and he’ll pick up golf along the way. “Any time you can get onto a golf course with shorts and a golf shirt … you can’t beat the feeling. To be walking outside for four hours and chasing a white ball is just something great,” says Moro.