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Luxury Golf Tours

Robert Lowell
From the Print Edition:
Air Sick, Jul/Aug 02

(continued from page 1)

The next morning you play Shadow Creek, the mirage in the desert created by hotelier Steve Wynn and golf course architect Tom Fazio. It's a Northwest-style course in the middle of the desert, a bucolic retreat from the hurly-burly of the Las Vegas Strip.

That afternoon you dash off to the middle of Nebraska. Nebraska, you say? For golf, you say? Yes, you are headed for the Sand Hills Golf Club, a Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore layout. Like Bandon Dunes, it's a remote site that involves arduous commercial airline travel to get to. After staying overnight in one of the beautifully appointed cabins on the property, you can play two rounds of golf this day, and chances are you will want to. Sand Hills is routed naturally across sandy prairie land, the sand a product of an ancient ocean. At 5 p.m. you head back to White Plains, completing a five-day, coast-to-coast trip that might easily take a week by commercial airline travel, and leave you exhausted -- plus having played less golf.

The price tag? Ummel calculates it at $31,225 per person for four players, everything included, and that might mean his own presence as the tour coordinator. The price would come down to $18,945 for an eight-player group. The final price is determined by the hours the jet is airborne and any special catering and entertainment needs.

For a trip with a set itinerary and a bigger and broader range of players, you might consider TCS Expeditions of Seattle. Each July T. C. Swartz, the company namesake, follows his own passion and puts together a trip to Scotland, Ireland and Spain to play golf, and to learn about golf. Jim Flick, one of the world's leading golf instructors, and several of his associates travel with the party aboard a private 737. Flick has been an instructor to Jack Nicklaus and a business partner with him in golf schools. For Swartz and his passengers, who pony up more than $25,000 apiece, the trip is a midsummer daydream come true.

"I think having access to Jim Flick for 10 days is probably worth the price of the whole trip," says Swartz. "He's my best friend and he tends to become everybody's best friend. We have repeat business because Jim is part of this trip."

This tour originates in Ireland and ends in Scotland, with clients providing their own transportation across the Atlantic. Once in Ireland, everything is taken care of down to the last detail. The trip begins with golf at the Adare Manor Hotel course. Ballybunion is next, followed by a round at the spectacular Old Head golf course near Kinsale. For that part of the journey, helicopters are used to shuttle players and avoid the twisting Irish roads. A three-hour car journey takes 40 minutes or so by helicopter.

The lack of an extensive highway system in Ireland has encouraged the development of a helicopter service for golfers. Carr Golf of Dublin and American business magnate Wayne Huizenga's Southern Aircraft Services are partners in a new business called Links Helicopter, which provides chartered, dedicated service to golfers. It allows players to experience more of the great courses of Ireland in much less time. Marty Carr, president of Carr Golf, says the service was slated to begin June 1 and the cost was expected to be 1,450 euros (about $1,150) per operating hour. This way, players can base themselves at one or two fine hotels and play 36 holes a day at scattered locations.

After the Irish experience, the TCS 737 takes players to Spain's Costa del Sol for rounds at the San Roque Club and at nearby Valderrama, site of the 1997 Ryder Cup matches. The jet then flies to St. Andrews in Scotland for rounds at the Old and New courses, followed by a day at the British Open Championship at Muirfield in Edinburgh, and two more rounds at either old and crusty Carnoustie, the new and laudable Kingsbarns, or the Old or New courses. Each day, players will play at least nine holes with Flick or one of his associates -- a golf tour and golf school all in one. Flick and his instructors, including former PGA player Phil Blackmar, will be on the course and in the plane to give instruction.

"You get top-notch instruction, the best of hotels, the best courses, the best food and wine, the best sort of travel, and you get it every day for 10 days," says Swartz.

Mark Greenstein and his father, Morey, of the Bay Area of California have taken the trip twice. "I originally gave this trip to my father as a 70th birthday present," says the younger Greenstein. "It met all the criteria as far as the range and quality of courses and the fact that Jim Flick was coming along, who is a contemporary of my father's. I think another bonus is to meet so many well-traveled people. On a private plane like that, you get to move around and talk with lots of people. On that first trip it was kind of a father-and-son outing because there were so many fathers and sons on the trip. There were also three women, and they fit in very well. On the second trip it was a lot of husbands and wives. You get treated so well, and having your own plane makes it seem like a private club."

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