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Golf Vacations at Sea

© Crystal Cruises

Combine two vacation favorites—golf and cruising—for the ultimate trip.

You have your heart set on a golfing vacation next year but your better half insists on a cruise? Hey, no problem: You can do both.

Cruise lines know that a significant segment of their customer base loves to hit the links, and not only do they design itineraries that let you play some top courses on shore excursions, but some of them bring the action on board with golfing cages, simulators, classes and pros.

And if you’re a real die-hard duffer, there are some companies that specialize in all-inclusive group golf cruises, packaging their own selection of prime courses and rolling in all the necessary arrangements plus a bunch of special services and amenities—for a price.

Kalos Golf, for example, uses full-ship charters of small vessels (fewer than 100 passengers) and even maintains its own fleet of golf carts in Europe and New Zealand, which it brings in to meet its groups, since many courses there have only a few. On a Kalos trip, as on other group golf cruises, “most golfers want to bring their own clubs,” says Kalos president Jim Lamont. On a cruise line’s golfing shore excursions, many duffers rent clubs at the course or from the line.

Morris Blitt, a hotel owner from Calgary who blogs under the name Kuki for the website Cruisemates.com, is an inveterate golfer as well as a frequent cruiser. “On a golf cruise of seven days, you’re likely to play at least three times, which in my mind makes it worth taking my own clubs—though rental clubs will work, because the golf courses in ports that ships visit as a rule have good-quality rental clubs available,” he says. “Even if someone is planning on using rental clubs, I recommend taking golf shoes, golf gloves and even golf balls, as they generally charge a premium for that type of equipment.”

Some major cruise lines appeal to golfers with onboard activities. For example, Princess Cruises has golf pros on some ships for personal instruction; passengers can also use virtual golf simulators that employ lasers to track the ball’s likely path when you swing, projecting a view of the selected “course” on a big screen. Princess also has onboard putting contests, a rental equipment program and guided golf shore excursions.

Onboard pros and most of those same amenities (except simulators) are also available at Norwegian Cruise Line, in a partnership with Elite Golf Cruises. You can rent or buy equipment from Nike Golf, get free golf clinics at every skill level and benefit from priority debarkation and priority tee times for shoreside guided golf excursions.

Luxury line Crystal Cruises schedules a few golf-themed cruises every year, usually accompanied by a celebrity pro (in 2012 it was Billy Casper), who mingles with passengers. For 2013, the golf-themed trips include an April sailing to Spain and Portugal, an August voyage to the British Isles and a September sailing through New England and Canada. “The majority of the shore excursions during these cruises are trips to play at exclusive championship clubs,” says Crystal’s Susan Wichmann. “We can team people up, and the golf celeb and pro from the ship join in the games.”

If your spouse doesn’t play golf, don’t worry—he or she can go off on other kinds of shore excursions offered by the cruise line while you’re on the links, or spend time in the ship’s spa or by the pool. Group golf cruise packagers will usually offer a lower rate and/or special tours and services for nongolfing partners.

How good are the golfers on group golf cruises? “On a cruise with 70 golfers, you’ll find golfers of all abilities,” says Kalos’ Lamont. “That makes it easy for us in the pairings to match people up according to their skill levels. Some friends come together, wanting to play most of their golf together, but many want to meet new people, so we match them up for golf each day. Our golfers are there to have fun and are not too competitive. We have friendly competitions each day, but there is never any stress involved.”

For a sampling of some golf cruise options for 2013, read on.

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