What to expect on an International Golf Trip?

You’ve just signed up for an international golf trip, what to do next?

 

1. Trip Insurance. Over the last 6+ years of traveling abroad, I have encountered more than one experience where trip insurance became an integral part of the funds lost due to illness, injury, death.  Generally, the insurance company will reimburse you for any unused portion of the trip.  I’ve seen thousands of dollars back into the pocket after claiming the trip insurance policy.  Do your research to find the one that is suitable to your needs.  The company you purchase the organized trip will generally offer a policy.

2. Airfare. Most golf trips do not include airfare. Once you are fully signed up and the trip is deemed full, I’d look at airfare.  Be creative. Look at various companies and try using mileage. If I take a large group overseas, I’m generally the only one sitting in coach.  The rest of my group uses their mileage and loyalty to get upgraded.

3. Shopping. It’s time to purchase some necessary items.

  • Rain Gear. Depending on where you travel, it is inevitable that rain will be a part of your schedule. You’ve spent a lot of money on your trip, including those tee times, so plan to play in the rain.  In Ireland and Scotland, it’s half the fun.  Look for rain pants, a rain jacket, a rain hat, (2) pairs of rain gloves, and an umbrella. I’d also confirm your (2) pairs of golf shoes are waterproof.
  • Golf Balls. Are. Not. Cheap. in. Europe. A sleeve is three times the amount we pay in the United States. Depending on the length of your trip and the difficulty of course, I’d plan to bring at least a dozen.
  • GPS or Laser Rangefinder. It’s difficult to predict whether a course will have sufficient yardage markings.  Plus, outside the United States, you generally see the markings in Meters. By having a laser, you will be able to read to any point on any golf course- in yardage, particularly useful on a golf trip.  The various GPS devices are good, sometimes.  GPS devices only work on golf courses that have been mapped, so you may encounter some places where your GPS unit doesn’t work.
  • An extra battery for your rangefinder.  Those suckers are hard to find anywhere.  Most golf courses don’t carry the proper battery. Disclosure- Valderamma in Spain sold them in the proshop!
  • Comfortable Shoes.  I mentioned waterproof shoes above, but also make sure they are comfortable. You will be walking in Europe, most likely.  So be prepared with extra socks and comfortable shoes.

 

 

Westin Punta Cana and Cap Cana Golf Trip

In February, I brought 4 couples on a 5 day stay at the Westin Puntacana in the Dominican Republic. I worked to arrange the trip with the group department for a golf package. We were originally supposed to stay at Tortuga Bay (Oscar de la Renta’s boutique hotel that is a leading hotel of the world), but there was a mix up in our reservation and we had no choice but to stay at the Westin. Needless to say, I had very low expectations going into the trip with the original confusion in hotel. After my 5 day stay, I can’t wait to go back.

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I review all properties before I stay and I have to admit, I was a little nervous with some of the bad reviews.

#1- if you are an experienced traveler going to the Caribbean, you know that service is going to be slow. (Bring a book and take a deep breath.)

#2- the staff is excellent. I am always shocked, arriving to Spanish speaking tourist friendly destinations, with the amount of English widely spoken. We have far less English spoken in Miami, Florida.  Many people reviewed the service was bad.  However, I was shocked with how rude some guests were with the staff.  Speaking slow and loudly doesn’t generally get your point across any better.  Again, I was impressed with the English spoken by the help.

#3- I had a room on the 4th floor and my wifi was variable, but mostly worked whenever I needed it. Guests complained about the wi-fi on some of the reviews.

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Upon arrival to PUJ, they greeted us with the VIP airport service. This is a must! They whiz you through security and customs to be on your way quickly. We were able to play 9 holes after arriving with enough daylight to spare. Check-in, was a little slow, but again you’re in the Caribbean what do you expect.

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The rooms were amazing. There is a defined entry way where it is convenient to keep golf club travel bags. To the left of the entry is a closet that I would like to re-create in my home. I believe it was built to make travelers feel so comfortable they wouldn’t want to go home. They even thought of the small details- such as a full length mirror in the closet and the safe, actually built into the wooden closet. (This always makes me feel comfortable with leaving my valuables locked up.) On the other side of the entry way is the large bedroom and bathroom. My two favorite parts of a Westin- the heavenly bed and the blackout shades!

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As for the food, we had a Golf Package that included unlimited food and drink anywhere on property and boy was it worth it. Our group had a wonderful time. We ate and drank until we were blue in the face. The Brassa Grill had a fanstastic dinner arranged for our reservation. They gave us the option of family style, which would give us multiple appetizers and main entrees to try. It turned out to be fantastic. Playa Blanca was a nice dinner option, but opt to walk rather than take the shuttle- it is only 5 minutes, but bring your phone flashlight to watch for the ropes on the beach. Our favorite lunch was at the La Cana clubhouse, sitting next to the pool and overlooking the beach. My favorite was the shrimp egg rolls. The last night of our trip we went to Bamboo, the restaurant at Tortuga Bay. It is a romantic, gourmet option.

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The golf is spectacular in Punta Cana. Corales might be in the best shape of any course I’ve ever played. (Disclosure- I’m a golf professional) And Punta Espada is breath taking. My only issue with golf in Punta Cana- I’m too intrigued to take pictures that I sometimes forget to take time with my golf shots.

If you’ve never been to the Dominican Republic for golf- I would highly suggest staying at the Westin or Tortuga Bay and playing Corales, La Cana and going to Cap Cana for Punta Espada. What a trip! Can’t wait to return! Thank you exceeding all of our expectations.

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Casa de Campo- Dominican Republic

Earlier this year, I was invited to the Dominican Republic with 100 other PGA professionals for the PGA Ambassador Conference.  It was a mix of breakout sessions discussing industry standards, golf, networking and viewing the spectacular property that is Casa de Campo. I had previously visited the property in 2008 before it had undergone a $20 million renovation shortly thereafter in 2009.

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Flying from Miami International is a very easy 2 hour direct flight to La Romana.  American Airlines has one flight leaving every day at 12:50p, which turns around in La Romana and arrives back in Miami at 6:15p.  Upon arrival to La Romana, we were the only flight.  This provided a very easy and quick transition from the airplane to the transfer.  There is a $10 per traveler charge to enter into the country at immigration.  Part of me wonders if this is pocketed by the workers. (Pessimist, ignorant American?) The next closest airport is Punta Cana.  It is a very busy international airport with many more flight options than La Romana and is a 45 minute drive to the property.  I wouldn’t recommend flying into the capital airport, Santo Domingo.  It is not a very nice airport and it is much further away by transfer.
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Arriving to Casa de Campo, you are greeted by a very natural, minimalist design. I love the use of teak, bamboo and other natural materials.  The staff throughout the visit couldn’t have been more helpful or proficient in English.  Actually, I was quite surprised how living in Miami, I am forced to speak much more Spanish than I needed to in Casa de Campo.  I like to practice my Spanish in Spanish speaking countries, but it seemed the workers in Casa de Campo would prefer to practice their English.  I had a very nice conversation (in Spanish) with my skeet shooting instructor.  He told me that speaking English has a direct relationship with their position at the company.  Casa de Campo has an English school for its workers, but many of them go to school in La Romana.
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The guest rooms were complete with flat screen TVs, modern furnishings, espresso machines, iPod docks, and a bathroom equipped with a private toilet area, and a large walk-in closet attached to the bathroom and an umbrella available for use during your stay.  Smart thinking.  Each guest room comes with a golf cart for touring the property and for ease of travel during your stay.  We went to the Marina for dinner one night, which would have been 20+ minutes by cart, so we opted for the shuttle that runs until 11p everyday.  It is nice to have transportation options.
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The food at Casa de Campo was particularly good.  My favorite was our group welcome dinner at Beach Club by Le Cirque.  Worldwide food experts rank ‘the’ Le Cirque amongst the top restaurants in the world.  For 38 years, Le Cirque has offered an unparalleled dining experience in New York City and since 2009 the Maccioni family has managed the Beach Club at Casa de Campo.  I also enjoyed the restaurant by the lobby called La Cana.  I had a fabulous dish of spaghetti for lunch on one of our off days.  My only critique about the food would be the breakfast served as a buffet each day.  It is quite a nice variety, but not as healthy as I’d prefer.  I ordered an omelet, which took 15 minutes to wait in line and have the chef prepare, that came out undercooked.  Most of the typical breakfast food was fried: hashbrowns and french toast.  I opted for oatmeal and some fruit.  The most interesting restaurant of all was at Altos de Chavon.  It is the area of Casa de Campo that looks like it has been there for many years.  It is all cobblestone, so it is advised as a woman to wear wedged heels or flats.  There is a small church, some shopping, and a restaurant.  During the month of December, they had Christmas lights strung all over the church and throughout the area.  It was gorgeous.  Another point to make, is this is the area where most weddings take place.  Our dinner was set-up like a wedding reception.  The restaurant was open air, there was a band outside on the veranda, and the entire place was set-up with Chivari chairs.  As a recent bride who got married outside the United States, I was picturing how charming a setting Altos de Chavon would be for a wedding.  It is very difficult to find a location, anywhere, with a cute church near-by a reception venue.
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Much of the 4 days was spent in the conference center.  I liked the layout of the facility.  It was positioned with one wall lined with doors to exit.  As a woman, I always search for an easy exit to a nearby restroom during long morning conference sessions.  Did I mention how happy I was about that?  The first day the air conditioning was too cold, but I was ecstatic to see that it worked.  There is nothing worse than listening to speakers while sweating.  The conference area continues across the main road to a building that includes 5 rooms that our group was able to use for group breakout sessions.  Again, great layout!
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Casa de Campo has an impressive array of activities for those not interested in golf.  During a free afternoon, I went to the skeet shooting area.  I had never shot a gun before, so they arranged for an instructor.  The range is amidst a heavily bushed, private area.  It was quite pleasant.  The clubhouse is very comfortable.  I was very nervous because it was my first time shooting a gun.  As I write this review, I am feeling the nervous butterflies in my stomach thinking about my experience.  The instructor did a nice job of calming me down.  The gun was a 20 gauge and it was heavy.  Two bullets was plenty before I needed a break.  I learned that being right handed and left eye dominant is not a great combination for shooting a gun.  We tried shooting lefty and covering my left eye.  Once I shot right-handed, with both eyes open, I shot two clay pigeons.  At the end of the day, I was happy to have shot for the first time and can appreciate how terrifying a gun really is.  Casa de Campo also offers horseback riding, donkey polo, kayaking, yoga, a beach club, fishing charters, and a state-of-the-art fitness facility.
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The most important part of our trip as PGA Ambassadors was the golf!  Boy, is Teeth of the Dog spectacular.  The stretch of holes 5,6 and 7 terrify a golfer to hit the ball left.  I started on hole 5 during the shotgun, and sure enough I was in the bunker on the right of the Par 3 green.  After winding inland for a few more holes, you pass by Oscar de la Renta’s old home, to discover the next stretch of water holes.  Teeth of the Dog is a good course to train for fear.  Most holes have trouble opposite the water, so you can choose to go for an aggressive line down the middle or you will face a penalty.  I love that type of golf course.  The other course we played was Dye Fore.  Creative name!  The course doesn’t have the same spectacular ocean holes as Teeth of the Dog, but it has views of the cliffs of Chavon River, Altos de Chavon, and some McMansions. The course is positioned on top of a mountain with little to protect golfers from the force of nature.  The first time I ever played Dye Fore, there was a 4 club wind.  It is hard to fathom hitting a 5 wood when you’d otherwise be hitting an iron.  I played well both times I have played the course, perhaps part of my good review.  Joking aside, I like the diversity of the two courses.  Casa de Campo has two other courses- the Links and La Romana Country Club, which is private.  We didn’t play Links on this trip, but as I recall from 2008, it is a hilly course that runs through the private residences of Casa de Campo.  To me, it is very similar to many other courses in the United States.  It is a true plantation course.  There aren’t any views of the ocean.
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Casa de Campo is a great destination for a golf trip.  Rooms are plentiful.  The service and food are great.  The Director of Golf, Gilles Gagnon, is one of the most hospitable guys you’ll meet.  And there is plenty of activities for everyone.  I would recommend playing Dye Fore, Teeth of the Dog and I would drive to Punta Cana (1 or 2 days) for Corales and Punta Espada.
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Are All of the Newest Courses in Mexico?

There must be something in the water! Last post we told you about a Jack Nicklaus course in Mexico, this post is about a new course designed by Tiger Woods in Cabo San Lucas.

He says it will be similar to the courses in California he grew up on.

To read more about the course, click here: http://web.tigerwoods.com/design/diamante.html

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The World’s Only Natural Island Golf Green

If you are a sucker for golf courses on the ocean, like me, here is one to look at: Punta Mita, Mexico. It is a Jack Nicklaus signature course located 25 miles outside Puerto Vallarta, MX.

The course contains the world’s only natural island green. It is open to members, and guests staying at the Four Seasons or St. Regis resorts.  The course has 8 holes that directly face the ocean or play alongside it.  The Pacifico course is ranked #1 in Latin America.

The optimal season is November through May.  The average temperate is 73 degrees with very little rain.

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http://www.puntamita.com/jack-nicklaus-golf/

Southwest France Golf Travel- Bordeaux

I feel at home traveling in Europe.  Every step you take, you wonder who had stepped in those footsteps centuries ago.  Europe is steeping with history and flavor.  This must be why my heart races with the simple thought of going on my annual ladies golf trips in Europe every year.  This year we started our golf trip in Bordeaux, France.

ImageA Chateau owned by Chanel?  Yes, please.  Harvesting season in Bordeaux?  Yes, please.  Food that keeps getting better with every restaurant?  Yes, please.  Golf that delights?  Yes, please.  You can find all of this in the Southwest of France.

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We were lucky enough to include some wineries in the Margaux region of Bordeaux.  The picture above shows how beautiful the wineries are behind the doors.  Did you know those beautiful barrels run $700 euro a barrel and they are only used once?  No wonder an average bottle of red wine runs around $100 euro.

ImageIf you haven’t been to Chateau Kirwan, it is a must stop on a trip to the region.  It is classified as one of 14 third growths in the historic Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.   Classification never changes in this area, so to be classified is a real privilege.  We were also privileged to have a wine dinner hosted by the owner herself, Sophie Schyler Thierry.  The dinner was one of our favorite activities on the itinerary.

ImageGolfing at Golf du Medoc includes wine bottles to indicate the 150 yard mark, or as everyone but an American would say, 135 meters.  Each hole was named after a local Chateau.  The design was welcoming for our first round of golf.   It was a good mix of difficult and very playable.  Most of all, I enjoyed that carts (buggies) were few and far between.

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Accommodations at Golf du Medoc were spectacular.  Upon first arrival to this hotel, you would assume, “Uh, oh, I should have stayed in Bordeaux.”  That is until you walk into the hotel.  The lobby is modern and large.  Someone from the front desk is read to assist with luggage and they speak English.  Each guest room is equipped with an extra large storage area for golf clubs and equipment.  The storage made the room very comfortable for our 4 nights.  Another pro for this hotel is the free wifi that can handle Skype calls back to the United States.  A large challenge for travelers overseas is figuring out how to call home during your trip.

ImageThe food at this hotel was outstanding.  Look at the presentation of their hamburger.   Hash browns for a bun, creative!  It looks so nice that I didn’t want to dig in. For a hotel that is far from any other hotels, our expectations were blown out of the water.  My group of women golfers were even able to organize a ‘Bachelorette Party’ for me in the restaurant one night for dinner.  They accommodate our every need.  There is also a nice gym and spa.

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ImageMoliets Golf Course.  Any course that has characteristics of a links course tops my list of favorites.  The Robert Trent Jones golf course had elevated greens that challenged every golfer. I don’t know what I would have done without my Bushnell Slope Edition.  It was truly my saving grace.   The fairways were narrow.  The course tested a golfer’s ability to play good course management.  I love the topography changes that felt like you were in the woods, then to the beach, then into a residential neighborhood.  The scenery stayed picturesque.  Perhaps I am biased to this golf course, for it was the day I shot 71.

Stay tuned for PART 2- Biarritz and Northern Spain