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Luxury Golf Tours

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

Can you imagine playing golf at Pebble Beach on Monday, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes on Tuesday, 36 holes at Sand Hills on Wednesday and Shadow Creek on Thursday? Or how about Ballybunion in Ireland, St. Andrews in Scotland and Valderrama in Spain on consecutive days? It's all possible. No matter how luxurious you thought your last golf trip was -- first-class airfare, limousines, lavish suites at hotels close to the golf course, and sumptuous meals with the world's best wines -- it can't compare to one of the latest developments in the world of golf: private jet golf tours. With the growth of private jet use for corporate and leisure purposes over the last two decades, these small sky chariots have been increasingly used to whisk golfers to their destinations. For very princely sums, the well-heeled and the well-traveled can design their own golf itinerary that breaks the shackles of commercial scheduling and the chaos of commercial airline terminals. You get to go where you want to go and when you want to go, departing from smaller and friendlier fixed base operator terminals.

Or, you can take prepared itineraries with all the best features of high-end golf travel with the added bonus that the plane you are traveling in is dedicated to you and your fellow golfers. No one to get in the way of a good conversation over the merits of extra-distance balls, oversized drivers or single-malt Scotches. That level of luxury, convenience and privacy comes at a price, substantially more than a self-driven tour with four guys in a minivan sitting on top of their golf clubs, which, of course, we've all done and all enjoyed. But for $25,000 a person and up, depending on length of trip, destinations, accommodations, size of aircraft and number of players, you can literally have it all. If your tastes run to more modest excursions, those typically can be arranged for between $3,500 and $5,000. Companies like New York-based Destination Golf have a whole catalog of pre-arranged tours to golf meccas around the world.

Tim Ummel, the principal of the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Jet Golf, which is owned by the UMLEX Group, specializes in organizing customized golf trips using private aircraft. "I'd say that about 10 percent of our business is incentive travel and the other 90 percent is totally custom," says Ummel. "We arrange for the private aircraft and everything else about the itinerary. That means using limousines to get them everywhere, including back and forth from home to the airport. We arrange all the rooms, all the luggage handling, all the meals, and the tips. You will have to get used to not dipping into your pocket, because everything will be taken care of."

Ummel calls the style the "butlered approach." At each step along the way, there will be somebody to take care of everything. On the plane itself, special catering needs are easily fulfilled. Want fois gras for a trip to Pebble Beach? Got it. Want the finest French Bordeaux wine? Not a problem. Want seared duck breast, lobster, truffled scallops or just pastrami on rye and hot dogs (grilled not boiled)? All can be arranged.

"I think the real benefit beyond the luxurious amenities you get with a private jet is the ability to go directly to where you want to go," says Ummel. "If you were taking commercial craft on a cross-country trip, it might take a week or more to accomplish what you can in five days on a private jet, because you don't have to adhere to a commercial schedule and don't have to change planes. This is very true of places that are more out of the way, that only have small airports nearby where the big planes can't land. You might save four or five hours on a single leg by being able to go directly to that small airport. For people who value their time, this is a big consideration."

Ummel often charters aircraft managed by TAG Aviation, an international aircraft charter and management company that has many planes available across the United States, from a King Air prop plane to large Gulfstreams, Challengers and Falcons. He also uses other charter companies. The base price of any private jet trip depends on the size of the aircraft and its itinerary. Charter jets can range from $1,500 to $7,000 per hour. If you want something bigger, say a Boeing 737 for your 30 closest friends, the price goes up exponentially. The operating costs cover pilots, fuel and attendant. You cover everything else.

As an example of the convenience and versatility (and dare we say the fantasy) of private jet travel, Ummel was asked to design and price a four-night, five-day trip that would originate in New York and take its foursome of travelers to both remote and exciting golf destinations.

The journey begins at White Plains Airport in Westchester County, north of New York City. There, a Challenger 601-3A with red leather seats and soft gray carpeting takes off as soon as the foursome and their luggage are aboard. With a range of 3,200 miles, the plane flies nonstop to Bandon, Oregon, the site of the new Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. If you leave by 7 a.m., chances are you will be playing golf shortly after noon on the Pacific Dunes Course at Bandon, a Tom Doak design that is as close to a genuine American links as you can find. The resort has its own well-appointed lodge for a good night's sleep and fine dining.

The next morning the Challenger lifts off for the Monterey Peninsula of California and the Inn at Spanish Bay. You could play the Pebble Beach Golf Links if you like, but chances are if you are taking this trip, you've been there before. Why not try the links-like course at Spanish Bay in the morning and the legendary Bayonet Course at Fort Ord in the afternoon.

The next morning you are off to the Coeur d'Alene Resort in Idaho, landing at a nearby private strip. The Coeur d'Alene course (with its movable par-3 green in a lake) is one of the most scenic of all American inland courses. After lunch, you then head for Las Vegas, check into Bellagio and try to hold on to your money in one of the private gaming rooms that evening, or take in a show.

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