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Real golfers put 'adventure traveler' trendies to shame

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Travel Adventure

Adventure travel always struck me as the equivalent of "relaxing proctology procedure" or "entertaining Jean Claude Van Damme movie." Hanging off the sides of the Himalayans? Swimming with the sharks? Hiking through the North Pole? Kicking back with the Huaorani tribesmen in the Ecuadorian rainforest?

No matter how colorful the brochure and minutely-detailed exotic the trip is, it still shines through as just a whole lot of work. That you're paying to get to do. Heck, even the blindly devoted Michelle Wie fan types on "Fear Factor" are eating bugs with the chance of a payoff. This current craze of ADVENTURE TRAVEL only illustrates how people have somehow managed to lose grasp of the meaning of the word vacation.

There are probably a few janitors who would be willing to let you do their rounds for a week as well. Would that make it "An Experience In Sanitorial Splendor"?

Adventure travel is the province of the tensely, hair-triggered rich. Personally, I prefer to send my time with the idle rich. That's the long history behind golf, of course. It's a game that forces you to slow down, to find hours to linger and responsibilities to merrily shirk. It makes you smell what the guy crammed next to you in the cart had for breakfast, if not the roses. It lets you buy space-age equipment to whack a ball with, not space-age equipment to make sure you don't freeze on some mountaintop. (You think some of those womb-simulating sleeping bags aren't failing just like that scandium medal driver that goes shank?)

Golf also is the truer adventure travel.

That's right, all you kayakers, mountain climbers, paragliders, deep sea divers and tomb raiders. Golfers have been outdoing you for years. Guys with bellies that make John Daly look svelte are experiencing thrills you could never imagine in your John Wayne journeys.

Any self-respecting hacker knows that the actual golf is only part of a true golf trip. You vein-popping adrenalin junkies would be surprised by the wonders you can run across while pursuing that great par 5. A year on the road, traveling from one golf destination to the next, has driven home one undeniable point: A lot of crazy stuff happens once you start out looking for golf. Unlike any other vacation, the golf trip seems to bring out the bizarre, the mystifying and the just plain no-way-did-that-just happen.

Don't believe it? Just sit back and read this hacker's journey. Keep in mind that the most exciting thing that happened to me in 10 years of prior regular sports writing was finding a restaurant in St. Louis open at 12:30 a.m. (you've never been to St. Louis if you don't realize how truly exciting this is).

The WWF Moment

The clock's racing toward morning, even the Vegas ladies of the night have called it a night, and there are about 12 stragglers in the Aladdin poker room. Suddenly a chair's flying across two tables. This is literally duck or you'll be decapitated stuff. Or at least get a little woozy.

Mountain climbersYou think those adventure geeks are facing this kind of danger in the Amazon at 4:15 a.m.? Hah!

It turns out that the incessantly annoying player at the table, the guy who's actually a dealer at another Vegas casino, has decided to prove his manhood by fighting the shortest guy at the table. With the help of several chairs. Only the short guy (he's 5-foot-2, maybe) isn't backing down. In fact, he might be winning, fists versus chairs.

This dance goes on for a good five minutes before the disheveled security force arrives.

Now, like any American male who was in junior high in the 1980s, I have experience in this type of thing. I went to WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome (it was cool back then, really). But never has the show been so close.

The police eventually showed and interviewed witnesses. Between hands. Now that's only in Las Vegas baby!

And to think, I was only there because my little brother convinced me it would be cool to show up at an 7 a.m. tee time on no sleep to see if it sharpened the focus. Yes, I'm much too old to be doing stuff like this. That's the thing about a golf trip. Suddenly, businessmen who hold the fate of multimillion dollar companies in their hand are acting like Vince Vaughn and the gang from "Dodgeball."

The Taxidermy Museum

Right next to the St. George (Utah) Convention Center, there is a sparkling 25,000-square foot, two-story building housing over 300 species of wildlife. Only they're all dead.

Welcome to the Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum! School field trip and scout tour discount rates are available!

That's right, this is a museum filled with taxidermy. Big-game, big-scale taxidermy. There are lions and tigers from the Sudan and Central Asia, planted there in all their rigor mortis glory. You can rent a headphone set in which a Rosenbruch describes how some of the animals were obtained (i.e. killed). The sounds of living tigers, lions, zebras, deer and the like are pumped in over loudspeakers, along with a thunder boom that rang a lot like gunshots to this taxidermy naïve ear.

It's one of the most surreal experiences you're likely to ever have. And the only reason you're having it's because good affordable golf, including some arresting lava courses like Entrada brought you to St. George, Utah. This is what golf does that other so-called sports travel cannot.

It brings you to non-sexy, out-of-the-way destinations. Who doesn't want to go to Bora Bora? When an adventure traveler can gush about the fun they had in a place like Butler County, Pa., like a golfer can, get back to me.

Close Encounters of The Logging Kind

Canadians actually believe in this conserving energy thing. Like really believe in it. It's not just lip talk directed at India and Russia between SUV fuel stops either. This is how you end up coming away from a Canadian car rental counter with the keys to a two-door Toyota Echo that has about the same interior space as your average baby's crib. To drive through the Kootenays, one of the most mountainous regions in peak-heavy British Columbia, in.

Rain ForestAh, those cute, idealistic Canucks.

Of course, it's suddenly not coming across so cuddly when in looking for one of the Kootenays' great hidden golf courses, you look away from the road for a moment and find a two-ton logging truck bearing down head-on in your lane. One 360-degree baby carriage car spin later, the logging truck's front grill is screeching to a stop an inch from the Echo's driver side door.

In an instant, a logger with a full Paul Bunyan beard bigger than the Echo is screaming things about Americans that Allen Iverson's yelling about the NBA's new dress code, pounding on the mini rental's roof.

Think you're getting personal interactions with the natives like that being led around by that guide dressed straight from the pages of the L.L. Bean catalog?

Golf, where a man can find his own adventure. If not the course.

Disco dancing with a fashion model

You're in the tiny disco of the Iberostar Riviera Maya resort complex. There are about 20 people in the whole place on an offseason Saturday night. Five of them happen to be bored fashion models brought in for a promotional shoot. There's a rumor spreading around the resort that they're Elle magazine models.

No matter. It's not like you're going to approach them to find out. When your girlfriend turns you down when you ask her to the prom it tends to leave a lasting reluctance.

Suddenly, a tall German brunette with short hair is dragging you onto the dance floor. She's using moves you've never seen John Travolta break out in "Saturday Night Fever." What's her leg wrapped around now?

OK, so then she's quickly moving on to the next journalist and then the next journalist. And then the next college kid. And then the D.J.

Still, how many white water rafting trips have you taken that included a disco boogie with an "alleged" Elle magazine model? (And yes, terms like disco boogie probably hastened the end of the dance).

Golf, where you can find plenty to explain even when you're an innocent dancestander.

Yes, honey. The garage is almost completely scrubbed down.

A Mile-High Plunge

Every adventurer traveler worth his or her battered backpack has a story of overcoming great obstacles on their "vacation." Getting through the night when that blizzard blindsided. Negotiating their release from Columbian rebels. Eating a blowfish at a fancy restaurant.

Toyota Echo Yada, yada, yada.

Try showing up to play 72 holes of golf in Prescott, Ariz., forgetting that you're suddenly in mile-high altitude (it's easy to convince yourself the ball's going farther because you've gotten better) and not drinking nearly enough water.

Before long, you've got a worse blockage problem than Kramer in that kidney stone "Seinfeld" episode and your drink of choice has gone from rum to Phillips Milk of Magnesia. You want to talk personal hardship! Get in line, you Dora The Explorer.

Seems like this argument's been settled. Time to hit the spa post round. Enjoy the tent, the malaria and your once-in-a-lifetime adventure experience.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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