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Travel like Tiger: Private planes put the fairway beside the runway

Chris TraberBy Chris Traber,

TORONTO - Around the time Wilbur Wright piloted thefirstpowered flight over the dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903, theone-piecerubber-cored ball and grooved club faces were fresh golf advents. NorthAmerica's first golf course, Royal Montreal, celebrated its 30th year;theUnited States Golf Association was nine years old; and the U.S.ProfessionalGolfers' Association was still 13 years from formation.

In the century since, both flight and golf have evolved exponentially,thanks in no small part to a symbiotic partnership. Thousands continuetoemploy the former to indulge in the latter. As such, the measurelessmajority who fly to golf destinations do so on commercial carriers. Withthenew age of security alerts and preemptive screening procedures, intandemwith the inherent quandaries, traditional air travel is now more arduousandtime consuming than a rain delay.

For those fatigued of having to hurry up and wait there is analternative inthe sleek form of private aircraft charters, the winged equivalent of alimousine with all the luxurious perks, pleasures and price premiums oftheir more gravity challenged four-wheeled counterparts.

Since Bill Lear popularized the private jet with the introduction of hisLearjet 23 some 40 years ago, flights for hire abound. Currently NorthAmerica's 500 jet-charter companies have about 3,000 planes available atanygiven time. Private jet fleets have doubled in the past decade and assupplyoutstrips demand charter firms have become increasingly competitive andcreative in marketing their services to those business and leisuretravelerswho value time and convenience over commercial fares and delays.

Just as special occasions call for chauffeured livery around town,golferscan splurge on a private air charter to garnish a special holiday. Theoptions are dizzying.

Fly Niagara offers an all-in, one-day return jaunt out of ButtonvilleAirport, north of Toronto, to Niagara Falls' municipal Whirlpool GolfCoursefor $459 a head. (All prices in Canadian dollars unless specified.) Thiscouldn't be classified as a private jet junket as they fly small singleprops.

If you dream large and have the budget to match, consider Golfahoy'sWednesday to Sunday luxury package to golf's Valhalla. For $22,400 (U.S)each, based on 12 travelers, their Gulfstream IV jet takes you from JFK inNew York to an all inclusive, helicopter-linked playing tour of the mosthallowed courses in the British Isles. They include the Old Course ofBallybunion, the Old Course of St. Andrews, Kingsbarns Golf Links, RoyalDornoch Golf Club and the Ailsa Course at Turnberry. Caddie fees areincluded. Taxes are not.

Flightexec, an air charter service operating from Ontario bases inLondonand Buttonville, specializes in business, leisure and medical evacuationjetservices. In partnership with Toronto's Golf-Away Tours, the companytailorsgolf getaways worldwide. While ferrying high-flying golfers represents asingle-digit percentile of their business, it's a growing sector, saysFlightexec sales and logistics manager Philip Babbitt.

"Flying by charter differs from scheduled aviation in many ways, butfromthe point of view of the customer it can be summarized in three words:efficiency, privacy and flexibility," he says. "Golfers book for thesamereasons as executives. With us it's park and embark. It's your chosendeparture schedule. You're in a private terminal and you're in the airin 15minutes. Many of our golf destinations are remote but have either smallairports nearby or their own landing strips. It's door to door,somethingcommercial flights can't do."

Typically, private jets are rented by the hour. A six-passengershort-haulCheyenne III twin jet-prop that clocks 260 mph goes for $1,600 anhour. A 16-seat Falcon 900 runs $6,500 an hour, but gets you furthertwiceas fast. Flightexec has nine flight crews available on one hour's noticeandalways has a two-pilot crew. Supplemental charges include taxes, airlinetransportation security charges, overnight charges from $500 to $1,000pluscrew accommodation expenses.

A Cheyenne III for six golfers, Friday to Sunday, from Buttonville toDeerhurst Resort's private landing strip in Muskoka north of Torontoruns$3,900. From take-off to tee off, it's 25 minutes compared to athree-hourdrive. Add $800 per person for two nights in a luxury Pavilion room attheresort and rounds, with cart, at Deerhurst Highlands, Taboo and BigwinIsland. Excluding taxes and meals, you can weekend like a PGA pro forabout$1,450.

For perspective, compare a similar weekend outing from Ontario toBritishColumbia on a commercial versus private jet. Air Canada takes you thereandback for approximately $2,200. Flightexec's seven-place Falcon 10 can beengaged for about thirty grand. That's $4,285 a golfer.

Is the squeeze worth the juice?

It is if your destination, for example, is the splendid Borgata Lodge atQuail Ridge in the Okanagan Valley. Commercially, you will endure a fullday. Privately, it's a four-hour flight, landing at the OkanaganAirport, 10minutes from the Lodge, instead of a five-hour drive from VancouverAirport.Golf packages start at $1,050 with three nights' accommodations in aloft orone-bedroom suite (based on double occupancy), three rounds of golf withcart on Quail Ridge, The Bear, and Predator Ridge, all championshipcalibertracks.

No longer the exclusive purview of the privileged, private jet usage isonthe rise, according to Alexandre Monnier, general manager of BombardierSkyjet. "Private jet charter volume in Canada is up across the board,bothleisure and business," he says. "Golf and ski destinations are the mostpopular types of leisure trips, although of course it's seasonal. Peoplevery often combine business and leisure so it's difficult to estimateleisure trips, or specifically golf trips, as a portion of total tripvolume."

He notes that private aircraft configured to seat from six to 15passengersgive flyers 10 times the destination options. In North America there are580airports serving commercial airliners while there are 5,400 airfieldssuitable for smaller planes. He sites one of Skyjet's most favored golfspots, Pebble Beach, Calif., which is 90 minutes from San Jose and atwo-hour drive from San Francisco. Only small private craft can touchdownat Monterey Peninsula Airport, minutes away.

Adam Webster, an aviation industry consultant and founder of AirWebster,ajet brokerage with operation centers in Montreal, Toronto and Brunswick,Maine, sees golfers as a growing demographic within the leisurecategory.

"The fastest growing segment will be more average business and leisuretravelers as private jet services becomes more affordable," he says."Golfcharters account for roughly five percent of our total trips but it's aniche that's growing within an industry that's valued at about twobilliondollars U.S. annually."

Of course, once the private bird has bitten you, owning one might be in order. Is $35 million for a new Falcon 900 off budget? Consider, then,fractional ownership. Airsprint Inc. based in Calgary, Alta., will sellyouan eighth of a Swiss-engineered Pilatus PC12 turboprop for $425,000 plusa$4,500 monthly fee to defray pilot, hangar and insurance expenses. Theacquisition entitles you to 100 annual hours at a rate of $Cdn 825 per.

Clearly, if you want your fairway close to the runway, the sky's thelimit.

Chris Traber has divided his career between journalism and corporate communications. Graduating with a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto, he was a feature and sportswriter for The Toronto Sun and United Press International covering major league baseball, basketball and hockey. His freelance work has appeared in ranging international publications including The Globe & Mail, New York Times, Success and Global Reinsurance.

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