Fat Guy's Buddy Golf Travel Tips:

Skipping over the typical, here are a few of the more important things Fat Guy has learned from a couple decades worth of golf travel experience:

-Always take plenty of cash . This may seem like a no-brainer concept, but for guys like me who've gotten used to the convenience and expense-tracking of debit cards, I gotta tell ya, I rarely carry cash anymore. So it can be tough to get back into a cash mindset, even for a weekend. Hit the bank for your budgeted wad before you leave, it'll save you some dough on ATM fees. In addition to Slush Fund cash (see below), the day before I leave for a golf trip I usually get at least $50 in singles from the bank, so I have plenty of tip money for shuttle van drivers, skycaps, hotel valets, hotel maids, bag boys, cart girls, and umm, entertainers.

-Upon departure, everyone kicks into a slush fund for simplification of shared expenses. To eliminate all the hassles of separate checks or trying to do the math of "fairly" divvying up the dinner tab, another thing I like to do with my buddies is a Slush Fund. At the start of the trip, everyone throws, say, $200 into the Slush Fund (which is usually handled by anyone with an accounting background and/or the most responsible person who didn't do all or most of the work setting up the trip). Bar tabs, dinner checks, breakfast groceries for the golf condo, and other common group expenses are then paid out of the Slush Fund. When the Fund runs out, everyone bucks up another $100 (or whatever amount is appropriate for the size and tastes of your group) until the trip is over. Any leftovers on the last day can be re-distributed back to the group, become the last round's prize money, or go towards the rental van. The only downside here is that there's always that one guy who tends to get a hair greedy with ordering pricey drinks, high-end appetizers, and a nice juicy steak when he normally would have ordered a Bud and a burger. Most groups are pretty good at self-policing this type of behavior before it gets out of control through ball busting, pranks after the guy has passed out, etc.

-What's the best way to get your clubs there? I've rented clubs for one-round biz trips, I've checked my own clubs with numerous airlines, and shipped them via specialty club shipping services.  I've had my admittedly cheap soft case shredded by USAir and my 9-iron bent on an unnamed airline.  Luckily I've never had them lost.  Here's the skinny on the best way to get your clubs to your destination:

Despite increasing baggage fees, checking your clubs with the airlines is still the cheapest way to go in most cases.  Packing a suitcase small enough to carry on the plane helps ensure you're paying lower first bag fees.  Domestically, Southwest and JetBlue offer no baggage fees for the first bag or two (including golf bags), so they're usually my first choice if I have options.  Most other airlines charge $25, and won't automatically whack you for oversized fees for clubs unless the bag is too heavy. Fat Guy Tip :  Don't think you're getting away with stuffing half your stuff in your golf bag... If it pushes the total weight over 50 pounds (or 70# on some airlines), it becomes an oversized bag with surcharges.  It seems silly, but pack all your golf gear in your travel case (including shoes, jackets, etc.), then weigh it on your home scale to make sure it's still under 50 pounds.  Airline caveat:  Most airlines policies will accept no liability for club damage if checked in a soft-cover carrying case.  Investing in a hard travel case will not only make damage less likely, it'll keep the airline on the hook if something does happen.

If you'd prefer not to have to lug your sticks through the airport and shuttle buses, the major package shippers charge anywhere from $10-$35 more than most airline fees for ground service (make sure to allow yourself enough lead time to utilize 2-3 day ground service--and don't forget they typically don't deliver (or count transit days) on weekends--and it's a good idea to have your clubs arrive the day before you do to avoid any delivery/arrival/tee time snafu's).  FedEx is usually the cheapest, but if you want home pick-up you'll pay a $5 surcharge.  Just make sure they don't require your case to be boxed.  Also, make sure your destination lodging set-up has someone/ somewhere to store your clubs securely until you arrive.

The specialty club shippers offer great convenience, but you'll likely double your cost over going direct with the package shippers (who will ultimately end up shipping your clubs anyway).  If you've got more money than time (or a really expensive set of sticks), the specialty guys do a great job with making the whole experience convenient with things like pre-printed shipping labels, last-minute pick-up location changes, and tracking emails.  I had a great experience with www.sportexpress.com .  Some of these guys offer online discount codes through various outlets, so Google for those codes before you book.  If you come up empty, email me below at the Contact Fat Guy link and I'll set you up.

- Manage communication expectations with your significant other before you leave . I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that one of the most difficult things about golf buddy trips for me is not only getting permission to go (or begging forgiveness after it's already booked), but also managing my wife's communications expectations after I get there.  Due to her nostalgic connections to the beginnings of our relationship, when I travel nowadays she likes to get back to the days when we would spend hours on the phone almost every night prior to living together. So she takes it as a personal affront if I can't find the time, inclination, or window of relative sobriety to call her for at least 40 minutes every night I'm away (and/or keep up a constant stream of texts which are not covered under my cell phone plan and aggravate me to no end by prompting me to stop what I'm doing, thinking, or saying every 2.4 minutes), even though if I was at home that very same night, we'd have been watching TV in near-silence and she'd only ask if I remembered to take out the garbage. Keeping up this level of communication while on a golf trip can make it more difficult to relax and really feel like you've gotten away from everything, particularly if your wife needs to vent venomously for 20 solid minutes about the idiot customer service rep at DirectTV who failed to fix your bill, while your buddies are in the background busting your stones about calling/texting home every time you pick up the phone.  Now, I'm sure phone time expectations vary greatly from woman to woman (my buddy Jeff's wife actually genuinely encourages him to leave for a few days occasionally--i.e. 'get out of here or I'm going to kill you'--so he usually calls home twice for about 8 minutes apiece during a 4-day golf weekend--lucky bastard).  But do your best to establish a foothold of ground rules for cell contact while on a boys' golf weekend or even for a round near home with da boys (this works better if it's established somewhat early in the relationship/marriage)... Some good guidelines include:  Honey, I don't answer my cell while on the golf course.  Honey, I turn my phone off while on the golf course.  Honey, don't call me on the golf course unless somebody died.  No, check that, don't call me on the golf course unless someone is dying, 'cause if they're already dead there's nothing I can do about it.'  Or, create a pre-set time and duration of calls while on a golf trip, with something like, 'Honey, I'll call you for 20 minutes at 8 o'clock every night while I'm away.'  Or 'Honey, I'll call you when we get a break in our schedule'.  I usually find that dialing home while my buddies are still showering up after golf and/or during the drive out to dinner not only makes good use of otherwise-dead time, but also puts a nice preset bookend on the call when you have to jump in the shower next or sit down and order dinner (just make sure the restaurant where you're going doesn't have an hour-long table wait).

- Nether-regions sweat management . Gold Bond powder for you swarthy sweaty types, and Gold Bond lotion for those of us whose thighs are a little too close together.  Your bunk mate will thank you, your pending rash will thank you, and your wife will thank you when you finally pull your dirty boxers out of your bag 3 days after you return.

-Wet weather golf:  Pack two of everything! If you're going somewhere where there's a good chance of consistent rain (Scotland, Ireland, Seattle, Bandon off-season, summer afternoon thunderstorms in Florida), pack two pairs of golf shoes (you know your old pair is still in the garage somewhere and they're serviceable for one last weekend's use with Dr. Scholl's inserts and a new set of spikes), two rainsuits, 2-3 pairs of socks for each day, two golf towels per round, at least two golf gloves, etc.  Having two sets allows yesterday's still-damp set to fully dry over the hotel air conditioner/heater, while you wear the second set the next day.  Nothing sucks worse than pulling on damp golf gear, particularly when it's chilly outside.

-Don't forget tunes. If you're going to be in the car a lot, either going to and from your destination (say, driving to Florida, or even that 45 minute trek to the course across town in Myrtle) or while you're there (say, a week long tour of Scotland's great courses), don't assume there's always going to be decent radio on the airwaves. Always take your satellite radio, MP3 player, or some CD's.  I like to mix up a fresh boy's weekend playlist on my IPOD beforehand to keep spirits and energy up during long periods of time in the car.

-Golf Bag Essentials: These items should be in your golf bag at all times, regardless if it's a quick 9 down the street after work or a week-long sojourn overseas.

1.  Pain killers, TUMS, and Immodium AD.

2.  FULL flask of your favorite shot booze.  Swing Oil.  Hair O' the dog.  Shootin' whiskey.  Hair on your chest.  Attitude adjustment.  Cannonball comin'.

3.  Swiss Army Pocket Knife (Golf Edition), with bottle opener tool.  Not a TSA flight concern, since it's in your checked luggage.

4.  Sunscreen- Spray, not lotion, to avoid greasy hands on worn golf grips.  Stay away from Banana Boat, that shit stained every shirt I wore it with until I figured it out.  Coppertone Sport is better quality, and has that great beach-memory trigger scent.

5.  Bug spray- Heavy duty, Deep Woods, contains DEET, industrial strength.

6.  Small flat Tupperware container filled with packs of crackers.  Good for emergency hangover management or that pre-lunch blood sugar crash on those days when the beer cart girl is too busy flirting with the cart boys to get back out on the course.

7.  Rain jacket/vest.  I dig the short sleeve version myself.

8.  Rubber snake for games of Snake. For the uninitiated: First guy who three-putts holds the Snake both figuratively and literally... it has to be physically on your person at all times (establish your own rules for violations), until the next guy three-putts, then he holds the Snake.  Whoever is holding the snake when the beer cart pulls up, buys the round (same goes for making the turn and finishing the round).  It can also serve as a fun little match play gamesmanship tool (i.e. Nicklaus/Trevino, 1981 U.S. Open @ Merion).

9.  A vaguely recent issue of Playboy . Also handy as a match play gamesmanship tool.

10.  A kid-sized football. For those times when you pull up to a par-5 tee with 3 foursomes standing on it.

11.  Spare clean hand/golf towel. A necessary extra accessory for those rainy days.

12.  Bag tag with your name.  The bag drop guys hate it when you pull up to that massive charity tournament, pop your trunk to drop your clubs, then drive off towards the parking lot, and they have no idea who's f*%&ing bag this is sitting on the sidewalk.  Also handy as an identifier if US Airways shreds your cheap soft club case.

13.  Small tin of Carmex lip ointment.  For those wind-burned shoulder-season trips.  Carmex stings a hair on application, but it's 12 times better than Chapstick in that it actually heals cracked, chapped lips rather than just putting a wax coating over the problem.

- Flight Essentials: If you're flying to your golf vacation destination... Everybody's got their short list of things they have to bring on a flight.  Mine are:

1.  Bottle of water.  The forced air on planes always dehydrates me and dries out my sinuses like nobody's business, and it's nearly a guarantee I'll be hungover (and further dehydrated) on any flight home.  The drink cart service rarely coincides with my thirst anyway, plus with a bottle you can just throw it in the seat pocket and forget about it, rather than dealing with tray tables, potential spillage, napkins, and trash collection.  It can also serve as a quick hair gel substitute after a long flight if you're sporting post-nap Doc Brown hair.  For long flights, bring 2 bottles.  Don't forget, you gotta buy all liquids after you enter the terminal, they won't let them through airport security.

2.  IPOD- Not only are tunes a great distraction on long flights, the headphones are a great way to keep out of unwanted conversations with chatty neighbors (especially when you desperately need more sleep), they'll keep you from hearing the crying infant 3 rows back, and my Nap Mix is a surefire way to get some extra Z's to get out of the hurt locker.

3.  Fresh magazines.  Flights for golf weekends are usually shorter hauls to places like Myrtle, further broken up by ordering your first "I'm out of town!" drink, catching up with buddies you haven't seen in awhile, or excitedly babbling about itinerary details. Not conducive to book reading. You need short-attention-span-theater stuff as a distraction, and I can't stand being spoon fed by airport/hotel-staple USA Today .  So I always make sure I've got fresh copies of Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (sometimes I'll hold off reading them for a week or two if I know I have a flight coming up), along with a Sports Illustrated or ESPN Magazine , and maybe an Esquire , Men's Journal or Best Life thrown in for a longer flight.

4.  The buckwheat horse collar neck travel pillow.  OK, it's uber-dorky.  OK, I used to forget the damn thing half the time until I permanently strapped the carrying case to the outside of my carry-on suitcase.  But if you need a serious restful nap during your flight (early departures, hungover returns) and hate those neck cramps you usually wake up with, then you can't beat 'em.  It's the only way I can get real sleep on a plane.

Golf Channel's Buddy Trip Tips

12/13

1.  The trip leader needs to be a benevolent dictator.  Take input from the group during planning, but your decision is final.  What your buddies really want is to just show up, give you a check, and be told where to go.  But not without a little requisite good-natured bitching.

2.  8 guys is a good group size: Resorts and package providers will start to talk discounts with groups as small as 8, plus everyone's schedules are easier to line up, and a smaller group is easier to change destinations from year to year.  Larger groups of 12 and up tend to migrate back to the same spot every year in search of volume/repeat customer discounts, plus knowing exactly where and when the trip will be next year gets it on everyone's calendar early for next year's trip.  Be sure to play one resort, package provider, or destination off the other in negotiations.

3.  Once you go over 16 guys, things can start to feel impersonal, and the group size can be unwieldy for group meals as well as socializing.  You'll probably end up on the plane ride home thinking of guys you barely got to talk to the whole trip.

4.  Keep the budget low, and the courses not overly difficult.  That way the money and golf will appeal to everyone, and you won't have guys begging off because they can't afford it, or because last year's tough courses made the golf too frustrating for high-handicappers to enjoy (while they blame their work schedule or wife to save face).  Nine times out of ten, it's more about guy time and catching up with friends than it is about resort pampering or course collecting.

5.  Have a fair handicap system to keep the playing field even.

6.  Keep the second 18 in a day optional.  Have a non-golf entertainment option lined up for those who think 18 holes is plenty.

7.  Thank/reward your trip leader for all their hard working putting things together.

8.  It's not a golf trip until there's a fist fight!

Here's some links to a few good 2009 Golf Digest articles on more golf buddy trip travel tips :

9 Buddy Golf Trip Planning Tips

Shoulder Season Discount Buddy Trips

Tips For Better Buddy Trips

(Dysfunctional) Family Golf Trip

Surveying The Experts
More than 1,200 readers have written to us this year, hoping for a Golf Digest Ambush on their next buddies trip. We recently surveyed these group organizers to learn more about their golf getaways. (The percentages do not always total 100 because of rounding.)

December 2008
Length of a typical trip
Two days or less: 1%
Three days: 27%
Four days: 40%
Five or more days: 31%


Number of rounds
Two or fewer: 2%
Three to five: 57%
Six to eight: 32%
Nine to 11: 7%
Twelve or more: 2%


Average number of players:
15.72

Per-person cost, not including airfare
$500 or less: 29%
$501-$1,500: 59%
$1,501-$3,000: 11%
$3,001-$5,000: less than 1%


Favorite winter destinations
1. Florida
2. Phoenix-Scottsdale/Arizona
3. Myrtle Beach/South Carolina


Favorite non-winter destinations
1. Myrtle Beach/South Carolina
2. Michigan
3. Pinehurst/North Carolina


Where we'd go if money were no object
1. Scotland/Ireland
2. Pebble Beach
3. Bandon, Ore.


The most important factor in deciding where we go
Quality of courses: 42%
Price: 19%
Ease of travel: 15%
Weather: 11%
Closeness to our homes: 5%
Other: 8%


How the lodging works
All of us share rooms: 55%
Some share rooms, some don't: 36%
Single rooms only: 9%


Ideal evening entertainment
Watching TV, playing cards: 42%
Local bars: 23%
Casinos/gambling: 14%
"Gentlemen's clubs": 8%
Other: 13%

Per-day alcohol consumption
Two drinks or less: 12%
Three to six: 46%
Seven or more: 27%
No idea -- it's all a fog: 15%


How often I daydream about my next buddies trip
More than once a day: 17%
Once a week or more: 48%
Monthly: 25%
Quarterly: 7%
Never: 3%


Your spouse gives you a choice: If you take your annual buddies trip, you must agree to three straight weeks with no football viewing. Your reaction:
Book the tee times: 92%
You know football is a religion, right?: 8%

At the end of a typical trip, I'm feeling ...
Overgolfed: 11%
Sated and happy: 68%
Like I need more golf: 21%

Have friendships ended over something that happened on a buddies trip?
Yes: 6%
No: 70%
Bent but not broken: 24%


The most anyone has lost gambling on a trip (average for all respondents):
$737

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most intense, the competitiveness of the golf on the average trip:
6.95

Top-five offenses that would get a person uninvited from next year's trip (ranked by number of mentions)
1. Cheating
2. Being rude or obnoxious
3. Fighting or violence that causes damage
4. Being cheap or short of money
5. Missing tee times or quitting mid-round

The Essentials Going on a trip with your golf buddies? Don't leave home without these 19 key items

By Ron Kaspriske
Golf Digest
November 2005

1. PAINKILLERS: Advil, Aleve, Tylenol, scotch. Be advised, however, that only time can heal the pain of missing that two-footer.

2. SUNBLOCK: Alcohol-based sprays are better than lotions. Ever have a tube explode in your luggage?

3. CAMERA: Nothing fancy, just enough to document key moments like Joe passing out in the parking lot at Denny's.

4. LOTS OF SOCKS AND UNDERWEAR: Change frequently. Please.

5. CIGARS: Make sure they're fresh, don't crush them in a suitcase, and smoke upwind if your opponent is a disapproving health nut.

6. LAPTOP (if the place you're staying has Internet access): Not for work, but it's great to have a computer for looking up things like weather reports, directions or, in rare cases, the nearest hospital. [ Fat Guy Note :  This list was written in 2005.  A laptop is likely an obsolete need with the subsequent proliferation of smart phones.]

7. BOTTLE OPENER AND CORKSCREW: The Department of Homeland Security won't let you carry these items on the plane, so pack them. They're almost as essential as your new hybrid.

8. BREAKFAST/ENERGY BARS: Quick snacks between meals come in handy when you're playing 36 a day.

9. DVDs of "Old School," "Caddyshack," or the '86 Masters.

10. CELL-PHONE CHARGER: But change your voicemail greeting to "Sorry I can't take your call . . . on second thought, I'm not sorry. Beep."

11. BUG SPRAY: We recommend OFF! Skintastic IV Insect Repellent Summer Splash spray. But anything with DEET is good. Remember, the mosquitoes are watching!

12. BAND-AIDS OR ATHLETIC TAPE: Golf marathons = blisters.

13. DECK OF CARDS: Real golfers play gin rummy. Texas Hold 'em has become more overexposed than Paris Hilton.

14. TWO EXTRA GLOVES: By day three, especially if it rains, the first one will look as if you've been doing oil changes with it.

15. EARPLUGS, AN IPOD OR NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES: Ever hear a middle-age man snore after a bottle of cabernet?

16. A SECOND PAIR OF GOLF SHOES: Sneaker-types are best. They're comfy, and, by the end of the week no one cares what you look like.

17. A LOT OF $1 AND $5 BILLS: From the starter who gets your group first off to the maid who replenishes all those packets of coffee, tips are always appreciated.

18. SMALL TIN OF "TIGER BALM": Some part of your anatomy (no need to share) is going to be killing you after a few days. This is our favorite topical analgesic.

19. DECISIONS ON THE RULES OF GOLF: Trust us.

WHAT NOT TO PACK

1. A HAIR DRYER: That's why God invented hats.

2. PHOTOS OF LOVED ONES: Don't lose focus on the mission.

3. A BATHING SUIT: You're here to play golf. And besides, golf shorts work just as well at 3 a.m. in a Best Western pool.

4. BOOKS: Magazines are fine for the plane ride, but there's nothing more anti-social than burying your face in a book at the hotel.

5. AN IRON: Puhleez.

-I've never been a fan of 36 holes a day, no matter how bad my post-winter golf jones . When you're in your 20's and taking golf trips, you're just as interested in boozing and chasing women as playing golf, and working on 3 hours' sleep doesn't mix well early morning tee times and 10 hours worth of golf in a day.  When you're in your 30's, you're more worried about the overall trip budget, so even replay rates get scrutinized by the budget committee.  By the time you're in your 40's, 36 holes takes too much out of you to enjoy golf the next day (or even the second half of the second round).  Beyond 50, playing just 18 a day with a cart for 3 or 4 consecutive days seems like a workout. My advice:  Pick a day or two to play 27 holes, and make the extra 9 a fun team competition, scramble, or Ryder Cup format.