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Vacationing for dummies: Preparing for that golf getaway

By Matt Paulson, Contributor

Everyday, legions of cubicle-dwellers suffer eclectic nuances shared by every office environment: the windowless workspaces, the strange neighbors, the egocentric bosses and most of all, the insanity induced by staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

Well, if you're one of the many suffering from the mundaneness of everyday office life, then maybe it's time to get away. Take a vacation. And what better way to relieve some of that stress built up in the daily grind of office labor than to get outside and play some golf?

"Golf is a recreational experience," says Laird Small, director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy. "It is meant to be enjoyed. "

And it's your turn to enjoy it. Put in for your time. Pack up your sticks, and let's hit the links. But you can't enjoy yourself if you're ill-prepared. No one wants to come back from a tainted golfing sojourn and return to work more-stressed than when he left.

So before you leave, make sure you're prepared. Make sure everything is set in motion to provide for an irreplaceable vacation. Make sure every detail is accounted for, from knowing the golf course to the hotel and tee time reservations, from making sure your clubs make it to your destination safely to making sure you're in the right physical condition and mental state to play and play well. Arm yourself mentally and physically with all the weapons you'll need to defend against the demons of a nightmarish vacation.

TravelGolf.com is here to help you out. Here is a list of things you can do to prepare for a golf vacation, as suggested by club pros, teaching pros, directors of golf, general managers, pro shop employees and even a sport psychologist. You'll find tips on physical and mental preparation. Everything from deciding what to wear to dealing with jet lag. It's all here.

First off, drink a lot of water before you go. And always stay hydrated while you're there. In addition, get plenty of rest and eat right before you leave. It's simply common sense.

Make sure all arrangements are made prior to departure. Make sure tee times are set. If at all possible, make the tee times yourself, so there are absolutely no miscommunications. If it's not possible to make your own tee times, make sure someone that knows golf makes them. Any miscue in information may cause you to miss your tee time, and when on a golf vacation, it's nice to actually get to play golf.

Obviously, find out what the weather in the area is going to be, so you can plan - and dress - accordingly. Also, pay close attention to the seasonal climate in the place you are going. Summer in Palm Springs is quite different from November in Myrtle Beach, which is slightly different from May in Colorado. Speak with the pro shop to find out the necessary precautions demanded by each regional climate.

While we're on dress, make sure you know the course's dress code. If it requires khakis and a collared shirt, leave the cutoffs at home, Billy Ray.

Practice. Take a lesson. In fact, try to take a lesson when you arrive at the actual course you will be playing from the head professional or director of golf. A lesson specific to the course may help provide an enjoyable experience. Example: If it is a links-style course, learn to hit the bump-and-run approaches you'll need to score well. If it's more target-oriented, have the teaching professional help you dial in your irons. If greens accept flop shots better than a bump and run, have the pro teach you how. Use instruction to arm yourself with the specific shots that will help you succeed on your chosen track.

If you can't take a lesson and you've never been to your destination before, do some online research to get an overall familiarity with the actual golf course. Most courses will have Web sites. Learn about the course's bunkering. If it is overrun with sand, practice your sandies. If it has more waste bunkers, learn the rules and techniques of hitting out of such hazards. Simply seek the nuances of each course, and rearrange your game to match those nuances.

Know which tees to play. In fact, when selecting tees, Nick Kuruc of the TPC at Myrtle Beach, says to not only take into account the distance of each set of tees but also the course's slope, rating, elevation (as it may reduce or increase ball carry depending on the height above sea level) and forced carries. At your hometown muni, 6,500 yards may actually play like 6,500 yards. But at some resorts, 6,500 yards may end up playing like 7,000. Getting your arse handed to you by the black tees is not exactly conducive to a positive vacation experience. Be prepared.

Learn about the course's dance floors. Each and every green is going to roll differently, especially if they are composed of different materials. If you're used to bent grass greens, Bermuda might be a little jolting. If possible, find out before you go and seek tips on how to prepare. Upon arrival, spend as much time as possible getting accustomed to the track on the practice green. A good experience can be soured by blatant unfamiliarity with the dance floors. Learn as much as you can, so you can be prepared for everything the greens throw at you.

These days, almost everyone rides. But if you plan to walk, make sure you are in the shape necessary to do so. If you're winded by the second hole, the next 16 will not be very much fun. So get out and do some light cardiovascular conditioning before you leave. It will make walking 18-36 holes much more enjoyable.

Find out what there is to do outside of golf in the area. Get recommendations from the head pro and/or GM, as they generally do a lot of entertaining. When on vacation, not everything needs to be centered around golf. To enjoy a truly well-rounded vacation, get out and enjoy the town. Seek the area's nightlife. Find out where to go - and where not to go.

Also, to truly take in the area to which you are traveling, find out the historically significant details of the courses you are playing. For instance, find out what Jack did here or Arnie did there. It will give you a deeper understanding of the area, and you will find deeper meaning in your vacation.

If you're in the market for clubs, find out the rental situation at the resort or course you plan on playing. Some courses will let you demo the newest equipment, so your purchase in the near future will be more educated. This also rids the need of bringing your own equipment, which avoids the headache of packing and unpacking the 100-pound eyesore known as a travel cover. If you really want to be prepared, ship your clubs ahead of time. That way, they'll waiting for you when you get there.

This may be a moot point for many, but prepare yourself for even the slightest amount of jet lag. If you're a West-coaster, playing a morning round of golf in Myrtle Beach might be taxing. Remember, 7 a.m. at home may be nothing, but 7 a.m. in South Carolina to someone from San Diego is going to feel like 4 a.m. Crossing just two or three time zones may be enough to mess with your circadian rhythm. Generally, jet lag is experienced at its worst when traveling eastward.

To deal with jet lag upon arrival, try to get accustomed to the time zone as soon as possible, especially at meal or sleep times. If you want to prepare before leaving, move your bedtime one hour each night toward matching the time of your destination, starting about two or three nights before departure, depending on how many time zones you are crossing. For short-term stays, sticking with your normal circadian rhythm and arranging your vacation schedule accordingly is recommended.

John Viera, director of golf at Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort outside of Orlando, recommends making checklists, and double-checking them; triple -checking them. Nothing will add to the anxiety of a golf trip like the nagging feeling that something important was left at home. Rid yourself of those feelings by making sure you have everything, and simple checklists are an excellent way to be as sure as possible.

Mental preparation

The first step toward fighting a mental breakdown on the golf course begins before you leave on vacation, says Dr. Todd Kays, a sports psychologist out of Columbus, Ohio, who frequently works with golfers. Kays recommends developing a positive state of mind before departure.

To achieve your optimal mindset, visualize the time when you played your best golf, and put yourself - mentally and physically - in that situation. Your body will become subconsciously familiar with all the stimuli you felt during your ideal round. The longer you imagine you're in your ideal round, the more familiar playing well will seem to your body and mind, Kays says. It will train your mind and muscles to be in their top state.

And never drift from your ideal mindset, even when the rounds start. Sometimes, a poor beginning to a round can alter one's mindset. To get back: First, take a few deep breaths. Then Kays recommends the use of key words to yank players out of the negative and back into their mindset. For example, writing "RC" on a headcover or on the bill of a hat may remind a player to remain "relaxed and confident," Kays says. Stay in your ideal mindset as long as possible, and your game - and vacation experience - will benefit.

Also before you leave home, visualize playing the courses you will be playing while away. If you hold the advantage of having played the course or courses before, use that. When preparing in the time leading up to your departure, visualize yourself playing the holes you've played before. Picture the shots you are going to have to hit to play well. If you've never played the course before, try to access a hole-by-hole display online. This will help you to visualize actually playing there, even though you've never seen the course in person. It will seem unusually familiar when you step onto the first tee.

Keep in mind that you are going to be playing multiple rounds of golf on subsequent days, so don't let one bad round or a few bad shots taint the entire trip. Take it one day at a time. If you're an average hacker, don't expect to play five stellar rounds. It's probably not going to happen.

And always remember that physical energy is directly connected to mental energy. If you're not used to playing so much golf in a short period of time, understand that you are going to experience physical fatigue, which is going to inevitably result in mental fatigue.

Finally, have fun. Enjoy yourself. Golf is a recreational experience. It is meant to be celebrated rather than mourned. So make sure you actually do that. It's vacation. It's not meant to be spent stressing about that 3-foot knee-knocker you slid by the right edge. Remember the good shots you hit, no matter how few. As Laird Small says, golf vacations are about telling old stories and forging new ones. It's about spending meaningful time with current friends and cementing those friendships, all the while building new relationships with those you meet on the course. Leave the golf course happy. If you truly enjoyed your experience, everything else will become secondary.

Matt PaulsonMatt Paulson, Contributor

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