There are golf vacations—a long weekend at Myrtle Beach, a shoulder-season excursion to Scottsdale—and then there are golf vacations. Some mix golf with exotic locales such as New Zealand or South Africa. And some, like a heli-golf trip in Ireland, leave little room for anything but golf. As the old saying goes, "when you have the time, you don't have the money, and when you have the money, you don't have the time." Well, you'll need a little of each for the adventures described below. But that's what makes them trips of a lifetime.
All golfers worth their mettle have dreamed of making the pilgrimage to St. Andrews, the "home of golf" and frequent site of the British Open. But why stop at just one British Open venue—how about playing all nine courses on the British Open rota? Wide World of Golf has assembled just such a tour. The trip starts in London and works its way north, hitting the four English venues on the current rota (i.e., rotation): Royal St. Georges, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham St. Annes and Royal Liverpool.
"While the course at Royal Liverpool may not be as interesting as some of the other layouts," says Bill Hogan, from Wide World of Golf, "the clubhouse is among the most beautiful and well-appointed anywhere in Europe." The tour continues to Scotland, where the other five rota courses reside—the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, Royal Troon, the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (which most know as Muirfield), Carnoustie and finally, the Old Course at St. Andrews.
"When you step onto the first tee at the Old Course, you feel the eyes of everyone at the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse watching you—and the eyes of all the many generations of champions that have played there the last 500-plus years," says Hogan. "When the starter says 'Play Away,' you feel the butterflies, no matter how much golf you've played and where you've played before."
Since the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Americans have been flocking to New Zealand in record numbers to experience the islands' jaw-dropping scenery and easy hospitality. Golfers have even more reason to visit, given the grandeur of two north island courses, Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers. "These are both challenging, off-the-charts beautiful courses," according to Hogan. "It's rare to find such exquisite pieces of real estate for golf courses, and both of these sites made the most of it with world-class resorts. In fact, I've called Kauri Cliffs the best little golf resort in the world."
Across the Tasman Sea, there's another little island known to have some decent golf. "Melbourne and the Sandbelt have as strong a concentration of great golf courses as anywhere in the world," says Gordon Dalgleish, president of PerryGolf, "and Australia in general is such a fantastic destination. It seems unfair to go that far and spend your entire trip in Melbourne (where we play Kingston Heath and Metropolitan), so we include some time in Sydney (and rounds at New South Wales and The Lakes) and even an outing in Cooloola National Park. If you have extra energy, you can pop from Sydney down to Tasmania, play the great Barnbougle Dunes, and fly back to Sydney the same day."
For those wishing to stay a little closer to home, there's the Pinehurst Sabbatical, a 30-day, no-holds-barred retreat at one of America's golf meccas. Your month-long Pinehurst retreat includes just about everything the venerable resort has to throw at you: unlimited golf on seven of the resort's eight courses (and at least four rounds on famed Pinehurst No. 2); first-class accommodations; 12 hours of personalized instruction, including sessions with renowned sports psychologist Dick Coop; massage treatments; use of a car; weekend buddy passes (including round-trip airfare for said buddy) … and still more.
This sabbatical will set you back $29,500. But if it shaves 10 strokes off your game, isn't it worth it?