Golf is one of the few sports that can count as exercise and sightseeing at the same time. And in any direction you point a club - from the desert-defying Els Club in Dubai to St Andrews Links in Scotland where the game was first developed - there is a world of golf to explore.
But how do you get your clubs to your golfing destination with a minimum fuss and achieve the lowest possible score once you arrive? Here are 10 tips to ensure the trip scores well:
Protect your wrenches
Expect your golf bag to be thrown around in transit. You need a solid bag, a cover that clips to the top of it as well as an overall golf travel bag, which encapsulates your golf clubs. Pick a golf bag that has inbuilt wheels for mobility around airports. Most major golfing retailers stock versions from about $100. Having head covers for your woods and hybrid is a smart idea, too. (If, like me, you have lost one or two of them along the way, slip some socks on the sticks.)
Many baggage carousels - including those at Sydney Airport and Melbourne Airport - aren't designed to carry golf clubs so they get sent to the oversize baggage department and pick-up area. To avoid waiting at a carousel that never delivers, get to know the layout of your destination airport online or ask at check-in for carousel details.
Golf clubs count as another bag at check-in. Be aware that some carriers sting you for taking a second bag or for excess baggage weight. Well before departure, it is worth weighing your bag and checking your carrier's policy on extra baggage, especially on domestic US flights.
Step this way, sir
Problems can start even before you reach a course. If you are travelling overseas this can mean being held up by customs or quarantine officers at your destination because you chunked your last seven-iron. Australian Customs, among others, prohibits the carriage of soil on the face of your clubs or the spikes of your golf shoes. Clean them to avoid a fuss.
Take a virtual course tour
Go to school on a new course before you play it by studying the course guide on the club's website. Many courses have virtual tours of each hole that show the location of bunkers and water traps and the distance to each. Some course websites go as far as offering tips on the best ways to approach their holes and how the greens behave so you know where to aim. It's a smart way to keep your score down.
Read the fine print
Some golf clubs provide course guides with a map of each hole. This can be as modest as details about each green printed on one side of the score card or as elaborate as a full-colour booklet, giving a graphic of each hole plus advice on how to approach. Ask at your destination's pro shop for a course guide as well as where to find markers that indicate how far it is to the green in metres or yards, which are often set out at 100 and 150 metres from your target (for example, coloured posts, sprinkler heads and similar).
To trim your score, pay attention to the location of hazards and how far you've got before a fairway doglegs.
Give in to GPS
Some traditionalists frown upon gadgets that measure the distance between you and the green. Purists believe that judging the yardage is another skill to develop. However, it is an Achilles heel for many tourist golfers playing on unfamiliar ground. There is nothing worse than making perfect contact with the wrong stick and watching the ball fall well short or sail over the green, never to be seen again.
A device such as the SureShot GPS micro ($249.95) is designed to indicate exactly how far you are from the pin, wherever your tee shot lands. It uses satellites to pinpoint your position and compares that with course information that is preloaded onto the lightweight hand-held device. It will show distance in metres to the front, centre and back of the green so you don't have to do yardage conversion in your head. The waterproof device stores up to 20 courses. Before you travel, or even while you're on the road, find sureshotgps.com.au, nominate your destination (from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe), select your course and download details to your device via USB.
Phone apps and stats
If your smartphone is equipped with GPS, you can buy and download one of an increasing number of clever golf apps. As well as telling you the distance to the green using satellites, these apps can collect useful data as you play to help you analyse weaknesses and strengths and track improvement.
For example, the Golfshot: Golf GPS app ($32, golfshot.com) for iPhone and Android devices automatically logs how many fairways you hit or miss (right or left), recovery shots, sand saves, greens in regulation and putts per hole. The stats are delivered in colourful graphs that show your driving accuracy and putting and scoring averages. The app covers more than 35,000 golf courses worldwide and is easy to install on your phone before you play. Its electronic scorecard - which can allow for player handicaps - can record a foursome, too, before bragging rights are awarded on the 19th hole. It can be emailed and saved for continued bragging rights.
You might want to try a free version of a golf app before upgrading to the fully featured one. For example, Mobitee - for iPhone, Symbian and Android devices - features more than 25,000 courses, from Argentina to Wales (including dozens throughout Australia). Press a button and it links with the maps facility to give you directions to the clubhouse (and an estimated time of arrival). Once playing, it calculates the distance to traps and turns on doglegs to help you select clubs and plan your approach to the hole. Pop in the distance you normally hit your club and it will suggest what stick to use. You can log where you hit each shot using the shot-tracking feature, too, which you can review later.
What's in your bag?
It is amazing how fast junk can build up in the pockets of a golf bag: food wrappers, old score cards, nasty old gloves, junk balls. Before travelling, empty your bag and add a fresh glove, a set of 24 quality balls (ones that will help give you control around the green), a fresh towel for cleaning your sticks, a light jacket and sunscreen. It's much cheaper to buy at a local retailer than to restock necessities at the pro shop. Don't forget your golf shoes.
Play with a local golfer
If you're travelling solo, ask to play with the locals when you book a tee time. This can be a wonderful way to learn about the course, and the locals. Don't be shy - it can be beneficial to your score, too. Most local golfers will offer tips on where to aim off the tee or what part of the green to target. You might be lucky enough to play with the course pro - then the competition is really on.