Perfecting the art of blagging: Planning a year of golf travel

Courses and Travel

How does our travel editor decide where to go? Chris Bertram on how he plays his way round the world with clubs on his back

I am NCG’s courses and travel editor, but I rarely go on organised press trips. I’ll explain why that is the case another day, because the reasons that I generally eschew these jollies will take a bit of time to explain and might be vaguely amusing (and only a tiny bit slanderous).

Yet I also travel more than any other golf writer in Britain and, it’s been suggested to me recently, probably more than any writer in the whole of Europe too.

What’s more, in their dubious wisdom, NCG let me decide where I go.

This is all great, but is a bit like an all-inclusive buffet on holiday; the choice and freedom is brilliant, but it’s verging on painful to decide what to choose.

I have been deliberating where to travel in 2019 for the last few weeks and already I have as many as 20 trips in various stages of planning.

I, pathetically, quite enjoy dividing them up like a pre-World Cup squad announcement feature, with Definites, Probables and Possibles.

Inevitably, all the fun is in the latter category of utterly random possibilities, and especially in the prospect of a Theo Walcott emerging.

Theo Walcott David Beckham

Last year, the pacey-but-clueless winger took the form of Russia, the sort of trip normal people spend a year planning (not least to get the stringent visa). In contrast, the prospect of going there only arose in mid July, yet I landed in St Petersburg on September 2.

This year it is looking something like this: Definites – Abu Dhabi, Porto, Denmark, Jordan, Georgia, Dubai, Hamburg, Rome; Probables – West of Ireland, Bilbao, Nice, Thailand, Egypt, Netherlands, Munich; Possibles – Bahrain, Morocco, Moscow, Bali, Sweden.

Equally pathetically, I’ll enjoy looking back in a year’s time to see how this list of destinations compares to what actually unfolds.

Anyway, it’s an eclectic list by anyone’s standards and you might wonder how Georgia, Denmark, Egypt et al end up in my thoughts.

‘In a variety of random ways’ is the answer, but the starting point is whatever Top 100s are coming up. This year the key one is Continental Europe courses (there are others such as GB&I courses, but I’ve played all 100 of anyone’s idea of a GB&I list so don’t need to revisit too many).

I did a EU Courses T100 in 2017 and had played 87 of the 100. So my main task this year is to get as close as I can to the full century (and additional contenders for the list), because the only shred of credibility I have in compiling these Top 100s is the fact I’ve been to most of the courses. At least I have the ability to compare.

Skiing

That means the key trip is to Denmark, where I’ve only played once, as well as return trips to the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Germany to fill in some gaps.

This is definitely the most strategic bit of my planning and, in a frankly ludicrous life where I am essentially orming around the world playing golf, and getting paid for it, is the bit that is actually vaguely impressive.

I actually go to courses and areas I should be going to, not just because a PR company is running a press trip there.

It does have a downside though; it can be a lonely business, this…

No, not really, I’m joking. I don’t mind going on trips myself at all – but equally, I very often have company in the shape of a friend, colleague or business contact.

In Denmark I’m playing with the former Belfry pro, David Shepherd, who I met when he oversaw Monte Rei in Portugal and saw again when I went to The Scandinavian near Copenhagen, which he now runs.

In Georgia I’m playing with (and also skiing with) my NBF Sergey, who owns the club in St Petersburg I went to in Russia last year (of course I am).

In Porto I’m playing with Sean Corte-Real, who I got to know when he was at Las Colinas in Spain.

I’m going to Cairo with the leading architect Tim Lobb, who has designed a new course in the shadow of the pyramids.

On other trips, friends from home (Scotland) or where I live (Leeds) will come along for the ride/freebie.

As you can imagine, co-ordinating dates and flights with a travel companion adds another layer of complication to the puzzle. In northern Spain I am doing something very special with my colleague Mark Townsend and he is already grumbling about my idea of taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao.

Abu Dhabi GC

I’m doing the Nice trip with Dave Bowers, who works for the UK’s leading golf travel PR agency Azalea. It’s not a press trip with other people though, because Azalea know very well how awkward I am about those (insert ‘rolled eyes’ emoji here), this is just me and Dave.

The trip with Dave will be the easiest one to arrange – in the sense he will do it all, and, most importantly, his clients will pay for it all. This is a huge difference from most of the rest.

This might shock you, but I don’t have an unlimited budget to fly to all corners of the world. So I spend hours working out how to cut corners and get to where I want to go for minimal cost.

So my inbox is full of emails from Holiday Extras (airport parking) and my DVLA and credit card details are held by five different car hire companies (FWIW, I always book direct now rather than through a comparison site), because one of them usually has a discount code to apply.

I also estimate I account for around 75% of Skyscanner’s website traffic. And it’s also rare for me to have fewer than five different flights in ‘My Account’ with Ryanair (‘horrified’ emoji in here).

I pool golf clubs in bags (FYI, eight clubs, shoes, a ‘pencil’ bag and nine balls x2 sneaks in under 20kg…if you ‘steady’ the bag on the conveyer belt AKA taking a bit of weight off) and I have my own version of Alan’s Big Plate, where I will sort out lunch that day by removing vast quantities of the hotel’s breakfast after consuming vast quantities while actually at breakfast.

I’ve also got a scam going with parking at Leeds airport that saves me probably £300 a year, but I’ll keep the details to myself because I’d be devastated if somehow they found out about it.

The biggest savings are made via some cunning from home though. For example, it’s not uncommon for me to want to get to a resort or course in Country X but they won’t be all that proactive (i.e. won’t pay) in getting get me there.

So in order to make it work financially, I’ll accept an invitation from a resort in Country X who are keen to sort out my flight and accommodation, then one day I’m there I’ll head off to the other one.

I know! So cunning!

Other times I’ll end up somewhere for acutely random reasons. I’ve got a friend who lives in the Middle East so catching up with them means finding somewhere cool to go to in the region, like Oman, or Ras Al Khaimah, or Jordan. This knowledge, in fact, has led to me now doing the first-ever Middle East Top 25 ranking.

Or my football team will get drawn against Bayern in the Champions League and I decide that sub-zero March (around the 13th to be exact) actually is the perfect time that I checked out the courses of Munich.

I know! So cunning!

golf travel

In fact I fully admit that while I love playing golf and I really love writing about golf courses (and especially trying to rank them properly), I love travelling to random places possibly most of all.

I know the Algarve courses well, because I love that part of the world, but I am relatively useless on the courses of the Costa del Sol; it’s just too easy and a bit too obvious.

I am going to Spain this year, but I’m more interested in going to the Basque Country, not the flesh pots of Marbella.

If this seems like one long sponsored holiday then I wouldn’t actually vehemently disagree.

I accept there will be a couple of times this year at least where I go somewhere just because it will be sunny there and the resort looks ace. Sorry not sorry.

So, with good reason, you probably all hate me now.

I would say this though; it really isn’t for everyone. I reckon the large majority of people would love this life for a fortnight but by the time it got to week three and you were packing again, setting off at a silly hour for a flight, and had generally lost track of normal life, they’d be yearning for a standard week at home.

Anyway, I see an email has just dropped in from the best hotel in Bali, so I must go…

2019 trips I’m most looking forward to

1. Jordan

For the pure randomness of it.

2. Denmark

To rank its courses properly and to play supposedly linksy Budersand.

3. Georgia

For the lively city and to also ski.

4. Porto

For the variety of courses and to watch Porto vs. Sporting.

5. Thailand

Because I’ve never been and I am always hearing how good it is.

More courses and travel from NCG

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