Elite Golf Cruises is a provider of onboard golf academies on several different cruise lines. The company provides clients with certified instruction, product and apparel, virtual golf simulation and guided golf excursions.
“Serious golfers used to shy away from cruising because they didn’t want to spend that many days isolated from their passion and now we bring it to their cabin — literally,” said Michelle Knipp of Elite Golf Cruises. “When we started this about nine years ago, our first account, Carnival, was doing less than 500 rounds a year, and now, as a company with several cruise line clients, we do more than 40,000 rounds a year with an annual growth expectancy of just over 20 percent.”
According to Knipp, the largest growing segment is women.
“We allow them to both learn and play,” she said. “Also, because of our Nike Golf rental, demo and custom-order retail program, they can be expertly outfitted for clubs, apparel, gloves, shoes and balls and be instructed during one sailing.” Knipp added that Elite Golf Cruises is in the throws of a massive education process.
“We feel that if people were really aware of all the opportunities available on our client ships, then many more would decide to make cruising their vacation of choice as it combines the very best of everything,” she said. “As a member of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), we have access to the finest courses in every port of call worldwide, so we are constantly evaluating our course selections and inspecting new arrivals.”
The company also does a lot of work with groups.
“We also do charters and incentive groups and professional event management for groups anywhere they need it,” she said.
Which crewman on a cruise ship goes to work with his golf clubs on his shoulder? Well, the golf pro of course.
In the case of the Golden Princess, which sails weekly from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera, that club-toting golf pro would be Jake Deverill.
The 26-year-old athlete works for Elite Golf Cruises, which runs the golf programs on a number of cruise lines including Carnival and Holland America.
Deverill got hooked on golf at sea when his father took him on a Mediterranean cruise soon after graduating from the golf program at Arizona State University. The ship offered golf and its pro had been to the same college. So, Deverill contacted Elite Golf Cruises, and now he’s one of its senior sea-going pros.
According to Audrey van der Walt, shore excursions manager on the Golden Princess, cruising and golf did not take off until bigger ships came onto the scene, which had enough room for golf simulators. Golf pros also joined the crew, and they gave lessons utilizing the simulators as well as organizing putting and long-drive contests.
Sea days are the most popular days for passengers using the simulator, which is usually sold out at those times. Golfers can choose from 11 courses, including Bay Hill, Troon North and St. Andrews. Other activities, such as a long-drive contest, spill out onto the deck.
The opportunity to play golf on shore has long been taken advantage of by ship officers, such as the late John Young, a popular Princess captain, often seen striding down the gangway with his golf clubs. And now, it’s one of the fastest-growing attractions in the cruising world.
Golden Princess offers games in three ports — Puerto Vallarta (El Tigre, $160), Mazatlan (El Cid, $110) and Cabo San Lucas (Cabo del Sol, $235). The ship carries rental golf clubs and shoes, with accessories such as clothing and balls at a 30 percent discount.
Van der Walt says the line-up offers something for everyone looking for quality time on the green. “The really avid golfers will play all three, while passengers on more of a budget will sign up for just El Cid,” she said.
Van der Walt also noted one characteristic shared by all golfers: “They never want their pictures taken going down the gangway!”
Being spotted as they go ashore shouldn’t deter golfers; they never have to carry their clubs. The crew does that for them, setting them up on golf carts at each chosen course.
Deverill escorts players to the golf club, then takes turns joining groups.
“Players really enjoy playing a couple of holes with the pro,” he said. “And I give them tips as we go, but only if they ask!”
He moves from group to group making sure everyone has enough water, not to mention golf balls, and quite often he has to retrieve lost clubs.
Are the costs reasonable? Deverill says guests get peace of mind by going with the tour, since they won’t miss the ship. Deverill also estimates that golfers taking a taxi to El Cid and paying the green fee and other costs, for example, would pay slightly more doing it themselves.
Most of the golfers are men, and Elite figures that more of them would play but decline to do so because they are traveling with their wives. To reconcile this matter, the company has come up with the Guilt Free Golf & Spa package by which wives of players get 20 percent off spa treatments.
“More people are asking about golf on cruises,” said Karla Lewis, Golden Princess onboard sales manager. Captain Bob Oliver, master of the Golden Princess, says he is happy to see lots of golfers onboard because they tend to be sociable individuals by nature and contribute to the ship’s ambiance. Although Oliver has a set of golf clubs in his cabin, he does not use them himself. Rather, Oliver prefers fishing, but that’s for another story.