Many ways for guys to play getaway game


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For at least a dozen years, John Haer has been organizing groups of male friends for an annual pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach.

It's an orgy without women every spring. It's a different kind of passionate indulgence, as anywhere from three to 12 men -- whatever number he can scrounge up that year -- ignore the bars and strip clubs around the South Carolina resort town and focus on golf, golf and more golf in the same way as thousands of other men getting away from Northern cold or stress.

Mr. Haer, 66, a long-married retiree living in the city's Park Place neighborhood, has nothing against having the female gender along. But his own wife doesn't golf, and considering the 10 or more hours spent on the golf course on these trips for two rounds in a day, "I don't know how many wives would like to do this. I don't think they would regard it as very much fun."

The same might be said for other guy getaways involving outdoor pursuits such as hunting and fishing, spectator sports like NASCAR racing, gambling binges in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, or any number of other trips that can represent a good opportunity for male bonding.

Sure, women can enjoy all of those things, too, but certain types of vacations just seem suited for men to unwind together without worrying about what they say or where they scratch in a way that might offend wives, girlfriends or, God forbid, children.

While popular media versions of bro-trips portrayed in "The Hangover" or on "Entourage" often involve some lust-crazed bacchanalia leaving in its wake headaches and regrets -- and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime memory -- it's safe to say that's probably not the norm.

James Hills, a Chicago resident who offers advice about "mancations" at www.mantripping.com, said he was happy to make a trip to St. Louis not long ago to watch baseball, drink beer "and eat a lot of bacon" with other men, and his wife was just as content to be left behind.

"It's just a lot of fun hanging out with guys and not worrying if my shoes don't match my shirt. My guys aren't judging me," he said.

A sprinkling of Internet marketing from tourist destinations sometimes shows up targeting male groups, but most of these mancations occur more organically, as old fraternity brothers, male relatives or other acquaintances who might be scattered around the country choose for themselves an active point of rendezvous.

At the Legends Golf Resort (www.legendsgolf.com), where Mr. Haer annually leads his group of old high school chums and more recent buddies, 95 percent of the people taking part in such packages are male, said Matt Amos, director of sales and marketing. The packages aren't marketed that way -- it's just how it turns out.

"If the money's green, it doesn't matter" what gender they are, Mr. Amos joked. But men interested in good value and nonstop golf seem drawn in particular to the resort's "fifth night and fifth round free" package. When Legends gets busy again with Northern tourists in October, about $500 from each member of a foursome can get them five nights of villa lodging plus a round of play at one of five courses and breakfast, lunch and two drinks daily.

"It's a matter of camaraderie and getting away together from the grind of daily life," Mr. Amos said. "There's no better way to hang out with the boys than to do a golf trip."

Of course, plenty of normal men want nothing more to do with all-day, every-day golfing than a normal woman would. Plenty of alternatives abound.

Star Coach Race Tours (www.starcoachracetours.com) has spent the past three years organizing trips to NASCAR races, including the one coming Aug. 5 at Pocono Raceway. For about $1,000 a head, it handles tickets, meals, drinks and lodging in a luxury motor coach on the raceway's infield for a group of friends wanting to share a long weekend.

"For men, that's like a dream vacation -- drinking, eating, grilling" while watching cars zoom around a track at 175 mph, said owner Joel Labute, who noted males represent about 80 percent of his tour participants.

On such trips, he said, it's rare for the men to ever leave the racetrack in the course of what amounts to a four-day tailgating extravaganza.

Premiere Sports Travel (www.sportstravel.com) advertises organized trips providing tickets, lodging and other arrangements not just for racing, but sports events of every stripe. Surprisingly, executive vice president Brian Wilder said many of those trips attract nearly as many women -- "The Kentucky Derby is a very husband-wife event" -- but the Masters golf tournament and Super Bowl skew heavily male.

"We don't take our package and base it on a gender attending the event," he said. "We try to build a package that can fit all needs. We're catering to true fans who enjoy their sport and want as much access as possible."

For those who have the U.S. Open tennis tournament on their bucket list, Premiere advertises packages starting at $845 for viewing two rounds of tennis on the opening weekend of Sept. 1-2, combined with three nights in a Manhattan hotel. Attending the championship matches the following week, combined with hotel and a Broadway show, is offered for a minimum of $1,925.

Mr. Hills, the 35-year-old Mantripping adviser, said he's enjoyed sharing big events like the Indianapolis 500 with male relatives and friends, and other men of some affluence might enjoy less macho but nonetheless rewarding trips together to have suits tailored in London.

"It's whatever your version of being a guy is," he said. "Not every guy wants to go into the Alaskan wilderness and strangle a deer and bring it home for dinner."

But many of the best times, he noted, can be had by low-budget means, such as finding a great camping spot and using and teaching skills that go back to scouting days.

One of Mr. Hills' favorite manly trips was simply driving along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (www.kybourbontrail.com), which involves visiting -- and sampling the fine products of -- six distilleries between Lexington and Louisville. It's like touring the popular Napa and Sonoma wine valleys in California -- perhaps less romantic than those, but also less crowded and just as fun.

"In an era where we're watching every dollar, you can do that relatively inexpensively," he noted. "The people down in Kentucky are some of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, and they have the greatest food, whether the cornbread or barbecue or fried chicken."

If you're the organized type and have a group of buds with some common interests, it should take no more than an hour of Internet searching to craft your own masculine tour -- including one within an easy drive from Pittsburgh.

Example: If you've always wanted to do NASCAR at least once, the Brickyard 400 is Sunday, July 29, just six hours away in Indiana (www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com). While you're staying in Indianapolis that weekend, root for future Pirates by seeing the team's AAA affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians, host Buffalo that Saturday night. While driving out Friday, break up the trip just east of Columbus, Ohio, at Granville Golf Course (www.granvillegolf.com) to play a Donald Ross-designed course that Golf Digest described as one of the best places to play in America for less than $40.

Or make up your own trip somewhere else. The important thing is to be with guys you -- admit it -- love. But Mr. Hills offers this last piece of advice:

"Guys need to be acutely aware to treat the wife -- or your partner or whomever -- right by bringing her back something nice," he said. "I find it's always good to have the wife happy when I leave and happy when I come back."

travel - lifestyle

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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