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Traveling light: Should you still lug your clubs?

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - You see the guy and you have to pity him. You know the guy - the one standing in the three-mile-long check-in line at the airport with a travel golf bag the size of a coffin. You feel for him because you know he'll have to lug that bag onto the rental car bus in a few hours while the other passengers look on in awe.

And just when he thinks the lugging is over, he'll have one last Herculean lug out to the rental parking stall in the most remote corner of the lot.

In a few days he'll go through the exact same painstaking procedure just to get back home. Perhaps even with a hangover. It is all worth it, you see, for the comfort and familiarity he derives from swinging his own clubs throughout the duration of his golf trip.

How do you know this guy? Because you are this guy. Rental clubs are for business travelers who ditch afternoon teleconferences to squeeze in 18 holes before the company dinner. Shipping one's clubs for $80 or $90 is an act punishable by jail time or prolonged exposure to a Michael Moore Academy Award acceptance speech. After all, who in his right mind wouldn't save his hard-earned cash for overpriced logo shirts?

Traditionally speaking, these maxims hold true. But these are not traditional times in which we live.

The recent tightening of airport security and the long lines that come with it has some of us whistling a different tune. Some traveling duffers have simply lost that lugging feeling, so to speak. If the lug is gone, you might want to swallow your pride and explore the rental club and shipping options on the market today.

"There are a number of traveling golfers who are interested in efficiency," says Chris Card, director of golf at the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla. "We carry 106 rental sets with all the latest Callaway (equipment) offerings. We rotate the stock every two years so you can be assured you are playing with relatively new clubs."

Card charges $50 a day per rental set and throws in a sleeve of balls for good measure. The rate is good for 36 holes a day, but at $50 a pop, renting can be cost prohibitive after a few days.

"About 99 percent of our recreational golfers, the ones that are in town for the week, bring their own clubs," says Card. "It is a comfort thing but it is also a cost thing. When someone is on a golf vacation he or she wants to beat the course and using a different set of clubs only adds to the difficulty."

Card believes it behooves a golf course to stock quality rental club sets - even if they don't become a popular option for traveling golfers fed up with lugging clubs. In addition to his current post at Innisbrook, Card has enjoyed stints at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Broadmoor in Colo., and with Walters Golf in Las Vegas. Each facility, he says, had a solid stock of rental clubs.

"It is part of offering golfers a service," he says. "It is a reflection of your course and your operation in general."

For some golfers, renting clubs is a way to test drive a new make and model if you are in the market for a new set of sticks. Shipgolf.com, a club rental company with stores in the Myrtle Beach and Jacksonville (Fla.) International Airports, specializes in late model, high-end equipment. Golfers can simply log on, select a set of clubs, and pick them up near the baggage claim.

"We market the company on convenience but we also are competitive on value," says Kevin McMahon of Shipgolf.com's Jacksonville store. "We charge $45 for the first day but it's just $15 a day after that for a standard set. Or they (golfers) can design custom sets for $60 for the first day or $160 for the week."

Shipgolf.com ships its rental sets anywhere in the U.S. Golfers can also have their own clubs shipped to the destination of their choice. McMahon says it takes two business days for shipments in the Southeastern U.S. and three days for shipments to other regions.

"And that is the very reason why that type of service won't work in Myrtle Beach," says J.T. Kobelt of Carolina Golf Travel in Wilmington. "About 50 percent of the golfers on packages in the Grand Strand want to golf on their departure day and you can't golf if you have to ship your clubs out that morning."

Rental sets at Myrtle Beach area courses are plentiful, Kobelt says. Yet he believes that steep fees and the fact that most golfers arrive at the beach via automobile will keep them from becoming a viable option.

"Most golfers on packages are here for three or four days and even up to a week," he says. "If you are paying $30 or $40 a day, you could have bought a used set of clubs at the beginning of the trip instead."

Unless the beginning of the trip doesn't go as planned. Connecting flights into Myrtle Beach from points north and west are notorious for "misplacing" golf clubs. In defense of the airlines, smaller commuter jets from nearby cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte simply don't have the storage capacity to handle the sheer volume of travel bags on their Myrtle Beach routes.

"The airlines have opened a bit of a niche market for club rentals and we've taken advantage of it," says Rich Ballinger, head professional at Shaftesbury Glen Golf and Fish Club in Conway, S.C. "We offer Callaway Steelhead X-14 irons, Steelhead woods and the Odyssey putter and we only charge $25 a day."

Ballinger says he still wouldn't part with his clubs on an extended golf trip. Not for a new set of Callaway irons and not for the bargain rate of $25 a day.

"You can't replace your feel clubs like your wedges and putter," he says. "You can get the best set of rentals in the world but they are going to have the stock wedges. When you are playing new courses and you want to score, you need your clubs."

Lugging, as it turns out, is a tough bond to break.

Renting on the road

Senior editor Shane Sharp recently took a five-day golf trip to the Tampa Bay area to celebrate the Buccaneers Super Bowl victory. He opted not to lug. Here's his breakdown of the rental club experience.

Saddlebrook Resort - Ancient Arnold Palmer PHD irons and steel shaft metal woods and blade putter straight out of Bobby Jones' bag, all for the not-so-low price of $35 a day. Longed for my Cleveland TA-5 irons, Taylor Made RAC wedges and Callaway metal woods as soon as I spotted these relics on my cart.

Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort - New Callaway X-14 irons and Steelhead woods tailored to my shaft flex needs, capped off by a new Odyssey putter. priceless. Tried to put them in my trunk but was wrestled to the ground by the beverage cart girl. No regrets.

World Woods Golf Club - Odd blend of Titleist DCI irons and Adams woods. Irons were fine, woods were not. WW's Pine Barrens Course once beat up on Phil Mickelson and David Toms. Used otherwise useless Adams driver to hoist a white golf towel after the second hole.

Final Analysis: Get a good travel bag and, in the famous (and slightly altered) words of REO Speedwagon, "keep on lugging you."

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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