Wealthy line up for round-the-world tour

Those with cash to splash are eager for luxury trips that take in the best courses on Earth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 9:51am

The ultimate golf vacation is available for US$74,450, though there's a wait on the first tee.

The 2014 trip departs from Maui, tees off in Fiji and ends 22 days later at Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain. Covering five continents, it includes 12 rounds and transportation on a customised Boeing 757 jet. Kalos Golf, a luxury golf cruise specialist, sold out the 78 slots and has a 21-person waiting list.

It's an example of growing demand for ultraluxury travel amid rising numbers of wealthy people. While managed golf trips abound, such as Tiger Management founder Julian Robertson's US$23,905 Tiger Tour, Kalos' itinerary may be the sport's grandest vacation, according to professionals in the industry.

"Private air, pampering, top courses and five-star hotels, it certainly sounds like an ultimate group trip to me," said Craig Better, managing editor of Golf Vacation Insider, a New Jersey-based website and newsletter. "And to cover this much ground in this relatively short amount of time, that's the ultimate, too."

The interest has Kalos already planning for a 2015 world tour as well as shorter private jet trips to destinations such as Australia and Southeast Asia. "I thought, this is neat, it's a signature programme," said Jim Lamont, the president of Kalos, about the world trip's creation. "We'll get a little bit of attention with it and we'll see if we get 10 or 12 people. We've been floored that we're already at a waiting list."

The potential number of customers for such travel is growing. The number of high-net-wealth individuals worldwide, measured as those with US$30 million or more in assets, rose five per cent last year to 189,835, and that probably will double in the next decade, according to the 2013 Wealth Report by Knight Frank.

US luxury hotel room revenue was up 8.7 per cent this year through March after rising each year from 2010 to 2012, according to data compiled by Smith Travel Research Inc.

Virtuoso, a luxury-travel network of more than 340 agencies in 20 North and South American countries, said 76 per cent of its affiliates in February reported year-on-year revenue gains, while 82 per cent said future bookings had increased.

The highest end of the luxury travel market was "booming", said Douglas Gollan, editor-in-chief of Elite Traveler magazine. A trip like Kalos' world tour probably would interest someone with assets of around US$10 million, Gollan said.

"There could be somebody who's doing very well right now, such as an investment banker who got a bonus," Gollan said. "They're not uber-rich but 10 million bucks is still not chump change."

The Kalos trip, which includes 51 hours of flying, begins on the Hawaiian island of Maui and visits Fiji, Australia, Bali, Thailand, Dubai, Mauritius and South Africa before concluding in Spain.

Full golf travellers, limited to 40, will play 12 rounds, while 20 "light golf" participants will play six, paying US$72,200. There are also 18 spots for touring-only guests at US$69,950 and a supplement of US$8,650 for single travellers.

Four of the 12 courses are ranked on Golf Digest's 2012 list of top 100 courses outside the US: New South Wales Golf Club in Australia is rated 25th, Fancourt Links in South Africa is 30th; Spain's Valderrama - home of the 1997 Ryder Cup - is 40th and Nirwani Bali Golf Club is 66th.

The East Course at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, which is hosting the US Open this week, is ranked No 6 in the US by the magazine.

The allure of playing diverse courses while exploring the world is what Arthur and Dino Moren said led them to sign up for the Kalos tour. The couple have been on six previous Kalos Golf cruises and have another one planned for this autumn.

"We've been to 45 countries so this is saying a lot that they've found eight stops we haven't been to," Arthur Moren, 71, who was a security analyst for investment firm Jennison Associates in New York before retiring, said.

Moren says he's a 21-handicap golfer and Dino Moren says she's an 18.

There are several other ultraluxury group travel operators, some selling vacations more expensive than Kalos'. Abercrombie & Kent, for example, runs a 26-day private-jet non-golf world for US$105,000.

For golfers, Robertson's Tiger Tour visits his three courses in New Zealand. A nine-day March 2014 trip, which includes travel between courses via private jet and helicopter, sells for US$23,905 per person.

The priciest travel offer may come from London-based Hurlingham Travel and website VeryFirstTo.com which put together a US$1.5 million, two-year trip that visits the 962 places considered to have outstanding universal value by the World Heritage Committee. Lamont said Kalos' offer was the most extravagant among golf vacations. "I don't think there's anything that compares with it," he said. "What would be left, golf on the moon?"

That's not available yet, though Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic plans to begin two-hour commercial space flights shortly after completing testing at the end of this year. The cost: US$250,000.