Cruising and Golf - The Ultimate Aquatic Golf Trail

By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Photos Courtesy of Elite Golf Cruises


SUNRISE, FL -- Trails are everywhere you go.  There are hiking trails, shopping trails, historic home trails… heck, even ‘drinking’ trails, popularly referred to as ‘bar crawls.’  Then there’s a model being adopted by many localities and some states -- Golf trails.


It’s the idea that you can play one course, throw your clubs in the trunk when you’re done, and then head on down the road to another high quality golf club.  You’ll play there the next day, and then keep going along the ‘trail,’ hitting several locations in one trip.  These golf ‘trails’ stretch out as far as the road, your endurance, and your wallet will take you.


Some enterprising folks at Elite Golf Cruises took the ‘trail’ concept one step further, however, combining the convenience and luxury of vacationing on one of the world’s luxurious floating resorts, also known as cruise ships – and mixing in the notion that many cruise itineraries just happen to include some pretty spectacular golf destinations.


In other words, follow the ‘trail’ from port-to-port, and have a great time along the way.  It’s a no-brainer, really.  The only question is why more people haven’t thought of taking a cruise as a great way to play several excellent golf courses in one vacation.  I was included in that group of blissfully ignorant golf enthusiasts until about six months ago.


According to Michele Knipp, Marketing Director for Elite Golf Cruises, golfers are discovering that cruising is the solution to an age old problem – how to escape from the ordinary and enjoy the sport at the same time:  “I’ve always been in the hospitality industry, and I know that both individuals and corporate meeting planners are in an eternal search for a better vacation experience, one that’s priced fairly and provides high perceived value.  Simply put, cruising is it.”


She continues, “There’s a whole world of people out there, especially golfers, who’ve traditionally considered themselves ‘non-cruisers,’ because they mistakenly believe that seven days on a ship is seven days away from golf -- but once they see what’s available onboard a ship, and even better, in port, then they’ll definitely change their thinking.”


Knipp is right on that point, and one ‘golfer’ who was enlightened to the cruise/golf concept was me.  I’d never been on a cruise before (which is a whole other experience onto itself), and I thought being ‘trapped’ at sea meant an enforced break from golf.  Not true.  While you can’t play on green grass every minute of the voyage, you’ll find more than enough on the ship – and in port – to satiate your golf appetite.

Golf awaits in Cancun, Mexico, and a cruise ship is a fun way to get you there.


It all begins with a call from the Golf Professional onboard.  Where you might envision a shipboard golf pro as ‘Gopher’ from the Love Boat dressed in shorts and a golf shirt giving lessons with a Mai Tai in hand and launching golf balls off the side of the ship – the reality is far from that.  Like everything else in the 21st century, ship golf is high tech and as ‘serious’ as you want it to be. 


All of Elite’s professionals are just that, professionals – including ‘our’ pro on the Coral Princess (of Princess Cruise Lines), Kevin Mumford.  Mumford ran a very tight golf ship, which includes lessons, demonstrations, managing the simulator, manning the golf shop’s merchandising operations and most importantly, coordinating the golf excursions during our eleven day trip to the Panama Canal and Caribbean.


It’s a lot of hard work, but most importantly, it’s fun, too.  At least he seemed to enjoy it as much as everyone else. 


Mumford is a native Canadian with all sorts of funny accents that I couldn’t quite place – because his background included a little of everything.  He attended the University of Texas and played on the golf team, then played events on the Canadian and Asian tours.  He supplemented those experiences with teaching stints in the Toronto area, at Glen Abbey and Angus Glen Golf Clubs, both of which have hosted the Bell Canadian Open PGA Tour event.

Some ships offer mini-golf as well.


Now he sails the seven seas with his golf talents… well, maybe not all seven.  But enough to give him knowledge of what a great idea it is to combine golf and cruising – and I’d venture to guess that all the pros are similarly gifted in personality and golfing prowess.


Mumford thinks cruising has much to offer a golf ‘nut.’  “Many of the ships have a golf simulator that you can use to practice – or play several different courses with your friends.  Most simulators offer about fifteen courses to choose from – everything from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst #2 to the Belfry ‘across the pond.’  The simulator’s open every sea day (and set hours on port days after excursions), and the golf pro will also have the V1 computer instructional software system that’s used by many touring pros and their instructors.”


Just like at your home course, the V1 system captures a person’s swing on video and replays it for you – and then compares it to the ‘moves’ a pro makes.  I’ve had mine put up against Ernie Els on the V1 system… and let’s just say, Ernie taught me a few things about what should be where in the golf swing.


You can even ‘convert’ right-handed pros to left-handed with this system, and vice-versa.  Pretty amazing.  Phil Mickelson as a right-hander… something’s just not ‘right’ about that, even if he is naturally a ‘righty.’ 


The simulators aside, we found Mumford’s help in arranging the golf excursions to be incredibly helpful – and a money saver, to boot.  Every cruise line offers shore excursions – basically day trips at the various ports-of-call.  There’s an incredible variety to choose from (almost too many), and golf is one of the more attractive offerings at many of them, especially when considering the courses that Elite Golf selects for you to play, then makes all the arrangements ahead of time.


You sign up, and the rest is done for you – including transportation, tee times, negotiated rates, club rental (if needed) and a guide, who is your ship’s pro.  He’ll even play a few holes with you along the way.  To his credit, Mumford attempted to try and show me the proper chipping motion during our round, but even he couldn’t achieve the impossible in the span of a few minutes.


Cruise passengers can also choose to book a round at a course that’s not offered as an excursion, but you’ll be missing out on the benefits highlighted above – not to mention, if you’re late getting back to the ship, you might be left at the dock (the ship is required to wait for all excursions offered through the cruise line).  Perhaps most importantly, if you’re playing as part of the cruise group, you’re covered under Elite Golf’s liability protection program – from gangway to gangway.  Talk about peace of mind.  Take it and have some worry-free fun.


Mumford suggested a couple ‘golf intensive’ cruises to consider, though all itineraries to warm-weather destinations probably will involve some golf excursions.  “Cruising the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles (offered by several cruise lines) is a golfer’s paradise.  It’s usually seven days, with four to five stops – all with top-rated golf, including Puerto Vallarta and Cabo del Sol (Jack Nicklaus course), rated in the top hundred courses in the world.”


He also mentioned Hawaii (out of LA) as a great cruise/golf destination.  “It’s four sea days to get there, but once there, you’ll get the chance to play Kauai Lagoons on Kauai, Ko’Olau on Oahu (rated as the third toughest course in the United States, and scenery right out of Jurassic Park), and of course, the famous Plantation Course at Kapalua on Maui,” Mumford said.


Knipp points to the western and southern Caribbean as other golf rich itineraries – with sailings that may include Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios or Montego Bay (Jamaica).  In the south, there’s St. Thomas, Barbados, Aruba or St. Lucia.  One note – some of these destinations, as we found out on Grand Cayman, were severely impacted by hurricanes in recent years, which might affect the golf courses offered.  It’s always a good idea to check ahead for what’s available, if you’re looking for the best golf cruises.


Or consult the experts at Elite Golf Cruises.  They visit all the destinations on a regular basis and should know the very latest.  “Our golf professionals, because they’re actually there frequently, know the most current course conditions, aeration schedules, event calendar and course staff,” Knipp said.  “They also know the surrounding area and attractions, making it easier to plan fun activities for the non-golfers in the party – and also allowing families to meet up after the round to enjoy the remaining time in port.”


The company operates onboard golf academies on all twenty-one Carnival ships (not known as the ‘fun’ ships for nothing, I’ve heard), eight Celebrity ships, twelve Princess vessels, one Holland America and two Silversea ships – which means there’s a lot of golf being played on the open ocean.  All equipped ships provide their complete program for any level player in almost every port of call around the world.


Mumford says he sees the whole gamut of golfers onboard.  I asked him if they tend to get the hardcore better players, duffers, or ‘serious’ golfers, and he says it’s a mix:  “We do get some low handicappers, but on average, I’d say we get folks from the 15-25 handicap range.  As for whether they’re serious golfers, aren’t we all????,” he said with a grin.


Beginners, golf widows, juniors and seniors are also very welcome in the simulator – and what better, no pressure atmosphere to take a few swings than on a cruise?  You can’t get any further removed from the somewhat rigid lessen tee at your local club.  Besides, if you decide it isn’t for you, then you can always hit the bingo lounge instead.


One final bit of convenience that Elite Golf offers is equipment – you can rent it, or buy it onboard – and have it shipped home for free (continental US).  Knipp says if you’re a real golf fanatic, you’ll probably want to bring your own set – but otherwise, every ship is completely stocked with the latest Nike equipment, apparel and even shoes and gloves, for a very reasonable $35 per day rental fee.  As you’d expect, you can also pre-book your equipment before your cruise through Elite Golf.


I personally had a bad experience with bringing my own clubs on the cruise.  First, my putter was ‘misplaced’ sometime between leaving it at the curb to load onto the ship with the rest of the luggage and when the golf bag arrived at my room several hours later.  It was subsequently ‘found,’ and I was able to reclaim it up at the Purser’s desk.  But upon picking up my bag when it was time to go home (it’d been in baggage custody overnight), my three-wood was missing (I didn’t discover its absence until I was already home, so there wasn’t much I could do about it).  It was the first time I’d ever had a club stolen – and it makes the Nike rental program sound awful attractive for my next voyage.***

Our foursome with our Jamaican caddies in Ocho Rios at the Sandals Golf & Country Club. This golf date was an excursion offered through Princess Cruises, with Kevin Mumford coordinating the day.


And there definitely will be one – a next voyage.  Now that I’ve seen the potential for vacationing at sea, it’s something I’m going to look closely at in the coming months and years when divvying up vacation time.  The golf component of cruising only makes the rest of it all the more attractive.


Knipp says that Elite Golf Cruises is in its seventh year, and is trying to get the word out on the cruise/golf concept.  For those golfers who’ve been on a cruise, there’s no need to ‘sell’ the idea any further.  Just follow the ship’s wake, and you’ll find a golf trail all your own.


***Note – I don’t fault the Princess Cruise Lines’ staff for the theft of the club – it was most likely taken by an opportunistic baggage handler in the port of Fort Lauderdale, since the bags were there for a period of time before being picked up. 



Elite Golf Cruises

1305 Shotgun Rd.

Sunrise, FL  33326


Phone:  (800) 324-1106




About the Company:


Elite Golf Cruises is in its 7th year as the exclusive provider of comprehensive onboard golf academies, providing certified instruction, Nike Golf equipment (rental and retail), Virtual Golf Simulation, Guided Golf Excursions and professional golf entertainment on the finest cruise ships on the high seas.


Rick O’Shea is the President of Elite Golf Cruises, and he founded the original concept back in 1994 with the goal of ‘providing a complete and enjoyable golf experience to the beginner golfer and the serious golf fanatics interested in improving their game.’

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