CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Over a couple pints and 20 games of Golden Tee 2004 the other night, a chum asked for Travel Golf Guy's thoughts on the year that was 2003 and for him to make some predictions for 2004.
Polishing off the last of my thick, dark winter ale, I laid it on the line for him.
The Hootie/Martha circus at the '03 Masters was a disgrace and if it happens again this year, I ain't watching. Except for on Sunday. And maybe Saturday. Might just check in for a few minutes on Friday. Does Thursday count?
I changed my mind, Annika rules. Someone find my "Go Annika" button. What makes her any different than Fred Funk, if you think about it?
Stuart Appleby is the best player to never win a major and has the best swing on the PGA Tour. He will win at least three times in 2004.
Marriage will change Tiger Woods? Are you high? The only thing that could change Tiger Woods is Tonya Harding and her band of henchmen. And Stevie wouldn't even let them get close (unless he gets blamed for coming up short in the Masters again). Besides, Tonya has her boxing career to think of now. Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel will not win again on the PGA Tour - ever.
Chad Campbell will - early and often.
Michelle Wie playing in the Sony Open in January is a shame. But hey, it is an open. Will Wie be qualifying? Annika can play any where, any time she wants. Did I say that already?
What? Oh, you said golf travel. I can handle that, too (barkeep, another please).
Upscale, contiguous 48 golf destinations like Scottsdale, Ariz., and La Quinta, Calif., will experience a Renaissance in 04. The economy has taken a turn for the better, the stock market has been resurrected and folks are itching to travel.
Upscale, non-U.S. based golf destinations like Hawaii and Mexico will not. Prices are so much higher than even the most chichi golf hotspots in the United States, and international travel will take longer to rebound than domestic.
If the Caribbean doesn't emerge as a viable alternative to Mexico and Hawaii in 04 it won't be for a lack of trying. No archipelago on Earth offers as many golf press trips to giddy golf writers, and all these freebies eventually will translate into solid editorial endorsements. OK, who took my Rumrunner and my passport?
If I were John-Q golfer on a budget and in need of a rubber tire golf destination for the spring of 04, my SUV would be headed to the Gulf Coast. Myrtle Beach and Orlando better wake up and smell the competition. The Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts are loaded with quality layouts and affordable accommodations. And can you say "black jack?" That's right - not only can you play courses like Shell Landing (in Mississippi) and Kiva Dunes (in Alabama) for under $100, you can gamble the night away (in Mississippi) and hunker down on some of the world's best seafood (in Alabama and Mississippi).
Courses not named Pebble Beach that charge close to or more than $300 for a round of golf should be ashamed. How can ownership and management at places like Troon North in Scottsdale and Bali Hai in Las Vegas look customers in the eye as they run their credit cards? This is two days wages for most of us. And for what? Hey, these are nice courses, but for that much cash the experience better be transcendental.
Why isn't Texas a top golf destination? I almost feel ridiculous saying it, considering the state's place in golf history, but golfing in Texas is underrated. The Hill Country is some of the most gorgeous territory on Earth and the golf resorts of Austin and San Antonio do a wonderful job conveying this. The music scene rocks, the beer is cold, football is king, and the girls all look like cheerleaders.
Everyone asks me about the next great golf destination. Fine. I'll tell you where it is. Get in your car, drive 30 minutes in any direction you choose, get out, and tee it up. It seems like every corner of the country is marketing itself as a golf destination these days. But if I had to pick a couple up-and-comers - Tucson, Ariz., and the Red Rock Corridor of Utah and Nevada would be front runners.
C-ya next year.
December 22, 2003
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!