When Ashlee Ciora worked in sales for the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau last decade, she noticed a gap in the market.
Many of the clients she worked with while selling the Southern California golfing mecca were destination golf tour operators. But primarily, those tour operators focused on men's buddy trips.
"There's not a lot of operators that focus on women's golf trips," she noted.
So, in 2020, Ciora, herself a serious golfer, founded the travel agency and tour operator Women on Fairways with a former colleague from Palm Springs, Noreen Selberg.
Their timing turned out to be fortuitous. The pandemic created a golf boom as people sought out more outdoor recreational activities. In 2021, the number of women ages 18 and older who played golf in the U.S. grew to 5.1 million, up 8.5% from 2019, according to the National Golf Foundation.
This year, Women on Fairways, part of Travel Edge host agency network, has booked women's groups to golf locales such as Pebble Beach, Scottsdale and Palm Springs, Ciora said. And this fall, the agency, which Ciora runs from her current home in Minneapolis, is offering its first three escorted trips, beginning this month in northern Michigan.
Women on the Fairways isn't the only agency or tour operator that sees opportunity in the relatively nascent market of women's destination golfing. Venice, Fla.-based Nancy Lopez Golf Adventures was founded in 2014, primarily as an instructional program using the teaching techniques that Lopez, an LPGA Tour legend, learned from her father.
But, said co-owner Teresa Zamboni, over time Nancy Lopez Golf Adventures has transformed into much more of a tour operator than it originally planned to be. Each year, the company does 10 to 12 multiday trips to golf destinations, where participants get lessons from Lopez and also spend time together on and off the course.
This year alone, Nancy Lopez Golf Adventures has organized events ranging between three nights and a week in Spain; Keystone, Colo.; Pinehurst Golf Resort in North Carolina; Kingsmill Resort in Virginia; Hilton Head, S.C.; and the World Golf Village in Florida, among other locations. Men and couples are welcome, but 80% to 90% of participants are women.
"I think we have seen more desire over the past five or six years for women to go on organized golf trips," Zamboni said. "Men have been doing it for years. But we try to do more than just golf. Women aren't typically interested in 36 holes of golf a day."
Indeed, as a rule, the model for men's buddy trips is simplistic. The groups typically golf all day, then, after dinner, often hit the bar.
But agents and tour operators say that for women's trips, itineraries are more diversified and less laser-focused on golf.
For one thing, said Ciora, lodging is often an emphasis for women's groups, while men tend to be much more focused on playing famed and highly rated golf courses.
"It doesn't have to be tied around a particular golf course," she said of her trips. "You don't have to be a bucket-list golfer to travel with us. It's more about the experiential golf trip. The resort is a big part of it. The amenities. The spa. The fitness classes. What culinary experiences can we have. It's noncompetitive. We look at the destination. We want shopping and dining."
Zamboni said that Nancy Lopez Golf Adventure trips also tend to offer a diverse set of activities. For example, when the tour operator hosted a group at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, clients could participate in a glass-blowing class.
But Sarah Forrest, who founded the defunct Red Tee Breaks women's golf tour operator 13 years ago and now promotes women's destination golfing through her U.K.-based Golf Guru Group, cautions that tour operators shouldn't make assumptions that women's groups aren't serious about their game.
Forrest said that women who travel for golf want the same thing as men do. But they also want other things, she added.
For example, not all women want to go to the spa, she said. Safety does tend to be a larger focus with women. They tend to want rides to and from the course if it isn't at their resort as well as a nice room.
Forrest said that when she started Red Tee Breaks, she was ahead of her time as the first person in the U.K. to solely promote women's golf trips. But now, she said, such trips have become socially accepted.
"It used to be acceptable for men to do trips," she said. "Now, groups of [female] friends are joining golf clubs and then they are going off and doing their own things."
Back stateside, Ryan Corrigan, owner of Corrigan & Co. Luxury Travel Outfitters in Virginia Beach, Va., is among those hoping to capture that burgeoning demand. In December, she, along with associate Summer Corbitt, plans to operate the company's first women's golf trip, a four-night excursion to Half Moon resort in Jamaica.
Corrigan, whose company is part of the Uniglobe Travel Center host agency network, said she wants to make the experience less intimidating for women traveling together in the often male-centric golf world.
"Our whole mission statement is you don't have to be good," she said. "You can play one round and go to the spa or beach. Or you can play 36 a day."