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Italians: Good golf, beautiful women, great food and wine - but lacking a bit in organization

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

UDINE, Italy - It was right about the time of my 26th consecutive hour without sleep, after the 10th bone-jarring, mini-bus ride and after the racial slurs and anti-Semitic remarks that I started questioning the wisdom of this press trip.

Unfortunately, by that time, I was almost home, after another 14 hours on planes, shuttles, cars, and in hostile, mile-long lines in airport baggage and security areas - which is roughly how long it takes to go from Italy to Florida, if you're unlucky, like I always seem to be.

Italian Trip
Press trips, usually called "FAM trips" in the travel industry, for "familiarization trips," are widely used. They're a chance for marketing and public relations people, as well as governments, to get as much exposure as possible for whatever destination they're selling.

I'm not big on press trips. I rarely take them. One reason is that, being fairly antisocial, I don't enjoy being hogtied to a rigid schedule or cooped up. But, occasionally one comes along that's too good to pass up. Read: Italy.

Now, I love Italians. My first girlfriend was Italian. I love their food, their style, their way of looking at life. Their country is incredibly rich in history and unimaginatively beautiful. But, let's just say organization isn't one of the Italians' strong points.

As Bradley Klein of Golfweek, who was on the golf tour, said, "Two hours into our trip, we were three hours behind."

Travel writers are infamous for complaining, so let me be true to form and get it out of the way. We're talking endless bus trips to the golf courses, hours apart. Tee time chaos: who's playing with whom? Is it a shotgun start, like yesterday? Why am I teeing off on No. 13? Why are there no carts? Who are you, what was your name again? What just bit me?

Another bus ride to another course. More chaos. Then the long bus ride back to the hotel, grab a quick shower, back onto the bus, another long drive to dinner. Now, these dinners were spectacular, gala affairs, held at castles, if you can believe that. Incredible atmosphere, amazing views, history seeping from the turrets to the gunnels.

Those who have been to Europe know about the eating habits of many Europeans, especially the Spanish and Italians. These dinners lasted roughly as long as the shelf life of granite. Between the appetizers and main dish, the earth experienced dramatic climate change, glaciers melted and mountains crumbled into the sea.

The Italians, rightfully so, wanted to showcase their world-class chefs and so we were treated to some exotic dishes like ice cream and what I believe were vegetables. No one came out and said it, but I'm pretty sure we all yearned for pizza, spaghetti and beer.

Back to the hotel at 2 a.m. Up again at 6 a.m. Repeat.

The Italians never seemed to mind. It was only the Americans, British, Irish and Germans who seemed to regard sleep as a necessary function of human life. In fact, revolution was in the air on several different occasions, but was never carried out because we kept nodding off. If Che hadn't had a good night's sleep, he would have been just another guy with a funny hat.

Still, I'm sure most of us would do it again, particularly those who sneaked off to Venice, which was conspicuously missing from the itinerary. The Germans were particularly enjoyable. A delightful German couple and I played golf together almost every day, for example, and were occasionally joined by another gregarious German.

The Germans got along with everyone, except for one or two. One German made an anti-Semitic comment to a Jewish writer.

Castel d'Aviano
Another one, a big, brusque fellow, started criticizing the politics of Americans who had the gall to elect George W. Bush. Now, I'm an avowed Bush hater, but I hate those smug European types who lecture me about our way of life even more, so I found myself in the extraordinarily bizarre position of defending Bush.

This same fellow then knowingly predicted the next U.S. presidential election would be between Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton.

Fine, it could happen. But then: "How would you feel about that, huh?" he said with a leer, using a racial slur to describe Rice.

Uh-oh. Minor incident to follow.

Press trips always seem to take on unpredictable lives of their own and this one was no different. For example, at first, no one knew how to take a self-described "ignorant rube" from Central Florida, but by the end of the trip he was everyone's favorite.

And at the end, the British, who are particularly good at toasts, did just that. Despite being some of the biggest complainers, they raised their wine glasses to our gracious hosts. I'm still trying to figure out if they were toasting Italy or the end of the trip.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald 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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