How to Get a World Class Golf Trip for Free
Note from Sean:
I don’t often accept guest posts on this site, but I found this story from Alex Helin really compelling. If you follow Location Rebel (my primary business) you know that I’m big on travel hacking and leveraging miles for cool experiences. See this and this.
With me being “in the industry” I get a lot of opportunities to get free or cheap golf. So I get the question a lot “how can the average person do this?” Here is one way of going about it.
In this post, you’ll learn how he got two round trip flights, two rounds of golf, and a rental car all using the bonus from signing up for a single credit card.
Anyone with halfway decent credit can do this, so go give it a shot (as long as you’re responsible and can pay off your bill each month). Also worth noting, there aren’t any affiliate links in this post, so we don’t get anything if you sign up.
For what it’s worth, I personally use the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and basically recommend it to anyone who will listen.
Take it away, Alex!
Travel credit cards advertise a number of benefits: double miles, free checked bags and cash back on every day purchases. One benefit not widely communicated is free golf at expensive, exclusive and private golf clubs – one of the best perks of the Citi Prestige card.
Every calendar year, the card offers 3 free rounds at a number of courses throughout the world. Just book the rounds through their portal, show up at the course and your round is completely covered.
These options include top 100 public courses (Pasatiempo, Chambers Bay), some of the most expensive resort courses (Doral – Blue Monster, Bali Hai) and almost all of the TPC courses, private or public (TPC Sawgrass, TPC Harding Park).
And this is just the beginning. I’ll try to keep the long list of benefits to my personal favorites:
- 3x points on travel
- $250 annual travel credit
- $100 Global Entry application fee waiver
- 4th night free on hotel stays.
- Plus, there’s a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after hitting the minimum spend requirement.
Here’s the disclaimer: the card has a high hurdle to entry – a $450 annual fee. Citi must agree that the benefit is too good to be true as they are pulling the free golf benefit next July – so get in on it soon!
$450 a year sounds like a lot. But as much as I travel and golf, I knew that I could get thousands of dollars in benefits from this card. I applied for & received the card in August.
How I Got a “Free” Trip to TPC Scottsdale
Right away, I used the card to book a round at TPC Twin Cities, a beautiful Arnold Palmer track in the Minneapolis area. I couldn’t hit a shot all day, but I got a lot of satisfaction in walking into the pro shop & simply being told “your round is covered, you’re good to go”.
As the cold weather started approaching in October, I knew I still wanted to do one last golf trip before the close of 2016. Like many twenty-somethings, I’m always short on vacation time. When I found some affordable weekend fares to Phoenix in November, I found the perfect use for my Citi Prestige sign-up bonus.
Two round-trip flights on American for my fiancée and I would run $680. A rental car would cost $110. On the Citi ThankYou Rewards portal, my points were worth 1.6x on American Airlines and 1.33x on all other travel purchases. That’s almost exactly 50,000 points.
Now that I had my schedule, I booked my golf rounds. TPC Scottsdale-Stadium, listed at $225, had availability on Saturday morning. Since I had a flight out on Sunday afternoon, I had to bypass my first preference (We-Ko-Pa – Cholla, a Crenshaw-Coore design), but was able to book the first tee time at SunRidge Canyon, a $145 value.
$790 in travel + $370 in golf for free. The $450 annual fee became a distant memory. Hell, next year’s fee is already covered.
The card has some additional benefits that come in handy. When I arrived at the MSP airport, my fiancée and I checked in at the Escape Lounge in terminal 1. Usually $45 per person to enter, but free with the complimentary Priority Pass I received with the Citi Prestige card.
After a flight delay in Minneapolis (de-icing the plane, ha!) and a few hours of sleep, I arrived at TPC Scottsdale on Saturday morning. I played with a couple of guys familiar with the courses in the area and added a few courses to my bucket list – they highly recommended the new Wickenburg Ranch course. Maybe next year.
Thoughts on the Courses
The front 9 at TPC Scottsdale definitely left me wondering about those other courses in the area. Aside from the cacti and desert sand, there wasn’t anything particularly memorable about the front 9. The holes were straight-forward and the greens were shockingly slow. As I found out later, they were being grown out in preparation for the Waste Management Open in a couple months.
The back 9 is a complete turn-around. #11, my favorite hole on the course, is a long dog-leg par 4 with water on the left and trees, brush & OB to the right. It’s the start of a stretch that makes the Stadium course a PGA Tour mainstay.
The finishing stretch is full of memorable holes: the island green on the par-5 15th, the stadium hole 16th and the driveable par-4 17th. A church pew bunker & a view of the clubhouse against the mountains finishes up an incredibly fun course.
After a day at the pool, a great dinner on the town & drinks at the Westin Kierland, I arrived just a little late to my tee time at SunRidge Canyon on Sunday morning. Two club members were joining me, so I teed off without a practice swing. I should do that more often – my round started with a couple pars.
The setting was stunning. The set-up of the course allows you to play deep into a canyon (hence the name) and finish with a daunting stretch of uphill holes known as the “Wicked 6”.
I quickly noticed the course was much more narrow than my previous round. My favorite hole on the front had to be the 7th. A short par 4 with a downhill iron tee shot leads into a short iron approach across a gulley onto a narrow, multi-tier green. If you like a course that gives you a variety of shot-making options, SunRidge Canyon definitely fits the bill.
On the back 9, the “Wicked 6” lives up to its billing. The final stretch starts with a long dog-leg right par-5 on #13. A big drive put me in perfect position…to dunk my layup into the water to the right of the green. Not the best start. If you need some birdies, you probably won’t find them here. The par-4s and 5s are narrow and treacherous & the par-3s have hazards on all sides.
Overall, I liked SunRidge Canyon slightly more than the Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale. While the shorter SunRidge Canyon would be eaten alive by a PGA Tour pro, there was fun to be had on every hole for an amateur like me.
After a couples massage & lunch, we got to the airport in just enough time to stop for a beer at the Admirals Club at PHX. Yes, yet another benefit of the Citi Prestige Card (which is also being revoked effective July 2017).
While the time seemed short, it was a perfect representation of utilizing the card benefits to their fullest: 2 round-trip flights, 2 free rounds of golf in perfect weather, a rental car for exploring and 2 lounge stops to catch our breath.
It’s a bummer that some of these perks are being pulled. But as many travel sites & bloggers will attest, benefits come and go. Just recently, Chase announced a new card with a sign-up bonus worth double the amount of the Citi Prestige card bonus.
For now, I’ll continue to enjoy the benefits I receive from this card. In 2016, I was able to play the home of the 3M Championship (TPC Twin Cities). I hit the green on at the Stadium hole on #16 and drove the green on #17 at the home of the Waste Management Open (TPC Scottsdale). And I played my final 6 holes of the year uphill out of a canyon (SunRidge Canyon).
In 2017, I’m hoping to use the card to cross three more top courses off my list. Now I just need to decide where to go next!
If you like this type of content and want more in depth coverage on how you can do it, let me know. As Alex alluded to and I mentioned earlier, the new Chase card is about as good as it gets, so if you’re considering the Citi for the golf benefits, take a look at the Chase as well. They have a 100k sign up bonus that ends on January 12th, but if you go into a Chase branch to apply, you can get the big bonus until the middle of March.
Not bad for the 2 minutes it took to sign up: