Phoenix, AZ - It's summer in the Sunbelt, and you know the drill. Sweat coats the rim of your favorite golf visor like some sort of pungent badge of courage. Your grips are as sticky as syrup from humidity levels that would even make a mosquito crave a cold shower. And of course, the water coolers on every hole are as empty as the lyrics of a Britney Spears song.
What you may not know, however, is that traveling golfers can sample top shelf Sunbelt tracks from Myrtle Beach to Phoenix during the summer months for a fraction of what they'd pay during the cozy peak seasons. With the travel market still recovering from its 9-11 hangover, this summer's deals are looking particularly enticing.
"You can generally save about 50 percent on great courses during the summer time here," says Marty Ekster, President of Seaside Vacations in Myrtle Beach. "Our best courses run between $125 and $150, so you can play some excellent venues for under $75. You can't get that kind of savings in Hilton Head on the premium courses."
And these discounts don't take into consideration the extra savings that golfers can realize by arranging stay and play golf packages to the Grand Strand. Seaside Vacations currently offers a three-day deal that includes golf villa accommodations and three rounds of golf. Players can choose between nationally ranked Tidewater, and other high-end courses like Carolina National, Rivers Edge, the Thistle, Prestwick and Tiger's Eye for $339 per person.
During the peak spring and fall seasons, all of these courses charge between $100 and $150 for a round of golf with cart.
"People talk about the rising cost of golf in Myrtle Beach, but this is still one of the most affordable places to stay and play in the world," Ekster says. "I would put $100 a day for a room, breakfast, and a round of golf at a high quality golf course up against anywhere."
If anywhere is Charleston, then Myrtle Beach might have a fight on its hands. The Holy City is home to a cadre of quality daily fee golf courses, and Charleston Golf Partners has a package dubbed "The Great Eight" that includes a round of golf and a night's stay for $79 on weekdays and $89 on the weekends.
Golfers can choose from among eight of Charleston's high end daily fee facilities, including Charleston National, Patriot's Point, Wescott Plantation, Dunes West, Crowfield, Shadowmoss, Legend Oaks, and for an additional surcharge, the new RiverTowne Country Club. The package includes accommodations at two full service hotels, the Sheraton North Charleston or the Quality Suites, or golfers can bump up to luxury digs at the Charleston Place for $155 on weekdays and $185 on weekends.
"We like to say its like getting a free round of golf, or a free room, because the price is so low," says Doug Schmidt, President of Charleston Golf Partners. "We have courses that have been nationally recognized and you can play them, stay in a full service hotel, get two free drinks and an all-you-can-eat breakfast for under $100 per day, per person."
With over 1100 courses available to the golfing public and summer temperatures only Ecuadorians would find tolerable, you'd expect Florida to have some phenomenal off-season golf deals. Discount Golf Packages, a Sunshine state tour operator, is currently offering stay and play packages to Orlando ranging from $89 to $129 per person, per day.
The high-end package includes a room and round of golf at the vaunted Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort, while the low end package includes "standard accommodations" and "prebooked" tee times at selected courses. Both packages include rental cars with unlimited mileage.
Locals in the Orlando area can also cash in on big savings at some of O-Town's lesser-known tracks. Errol Estate Country Club, just 30 minutes northeast of downtown, features 27 holes of Joe Lee designed golf. Summer weekday rates can go as low as $25 including cart. St. Cloud Golf Course is one of the area's most underrated links style courses, and unlike its suave sibling over at Grand Cypress, a round at this under appreciated layout will set you back on $30 to $35 in the summer.
In Arizona, a number of golf course executives concede that the slowing economy put a bit of a damper on business earlier this year, and so they're offering many discounts and specials this summer in an effort to draw more local golfers to courses but also to spur tourists to try golfing during the warm-weather season. The summer season generally kicks off June 1 in Phoenix.
Lon Grundy, director of golf at Legend Trail Golf Club in North Scottsdale, east of Phoenix, says business has been down a bit at Phoenix courses, but "we hope to see it rebound in the third quarter.
"When it comes to the published list of summer rates, they're probably comparable to last summer," Grundy says. "But courses are getting more aggressive than last year about offering special prices that are less than the posted rates."
For example, Troon Golf, which manages Legend Trail, has been running a coupon on its Web site making it possible through Aug. 31 for a foursome to play for the price of three golfers. The summer rate is $60 at the course; so three could play for $180, compared with $240 regularly during the summer.
A similar summer bargain is available at one of north Scottsdale's premier courses, Grayhawk Golf, where a foursome can play either the Talon or Raptor course for $200, including lunch or dinner at one of the club's restaurants, any time through Sept. 8. During the peak winter tourist season, of course, you can pay more than $200 a round to play at Grayhawk.
Seaside Vacations - (800) 363.1833
Charleston Golf Partners - (800) 247.5786
Discount Golf Packages - (888) 950.GOLF
June 5, 2002