Taking our golf clubs abroad is an increasingly common experience for many UK golfers as we seek out winter sun and golf. Because of this, owning a flight bag - which used to be the preserve of touring pros and the very wealthy - is now something that most of us consider. You still, admittedly, see forlorn golf bags on luggage carousels at airports, with the rain hood in place in the naive hope that this will offer some form of protection to everything that baggage handlers can literally throw at your clubs but most golfers on their travels accept that a proper flight bag is the only real protection.
After all, there's every possibility that, once you take into account 14 clubs, the bag, balls, tees, waterproofs and all of the other essential stuff we carry onto the course, there's probably around £1,000 of gear in your bag so it makes sense to look after it.
With this in mind we put two markedly different flight bags to the test; one all-singing, all-dancing and the other a basic offering that, not surprisingly, costs a great deal less.
TaylorMade Travel Cargo (pictured above)
This is the Rolls Royce of flight bags - most things seem to have been thought of but of course, they come at a price. The bag comes in two sizes - the Players model is slightly smaller but will still accommodate most stand and cart bags, while the Travel Cargo will swallow just about anything.
The bottom half is rigid on one side, offering good protection, and the bag is riddled with neat, thoughtful touches. For example, the main handles are riveted, rather than stitched, the double exterior zips come complete with a small padlock for extra security and there's a wee exterior pocket covered with its own protective flap where you can put a business card or your address details, just in case your precious clubs go missing in transit.
Two further external pockets are provided for golf shoes and are so commodious that you can easily get a pair (gents, size 11) in each. If you have more than one pair of golf shoes it's a big bonus to be able to take a spare set because even in sunnier climes - as I discovered in Morocco in December - it can still rain pretty hard and shoes, in my experience, are usually the last bit of kit to dry properly, especially as you don't want to accelerate the process - with leather at least - by putting them too near a direct source of heat.
Where the bag scores best, though, is in the area of protection. The top half - where the business end of your most valuable clubs will be sited, is extremely well padded. Not only that but in addition to three external straps there are two internal ones. This is a particularly helpful feature because it anchors your golf bag inside the flight bag, and will work especially well if you're taking a relatively small golf bag with you as it won't be sloshing around.
The TaylorMade Travel Cargo also looks good - not the most important consideration, perhaps, for a bit of kit that will be treated pretty roughly whenever you use it - being black with red piping. The bag is wheeled and is easy to move around although pretty bulky.
If you regularly travel to play golf, this would be an essential investment but one note of caution. Because the bag is large and fairly heavy (it weighs around 14 lbs when empty) there's every possibility that, once it's full, you'll be stung for a significant excess baggage charge. On an Easy Jet flight from Edinburgh to London, for example, I was charged £48 outward-bound, and £60 inward bound, which was significantly more than my own ticket. In future I will consider buying two tickets and taking my golf clubs into the cabin to sit next to me.
Price: £169 for the Staff Travel Cargo; Players Travel Cargo is £149.
Hi-Tec Flight Coverall (pictured over)
If the TaylorMade is a Rolls Royce, this is a Mondeo - it will do pretty much everything you need but has fewer bells and whistles but of course, is significantly cheaper. It is, in essence, a sturdy outer shroud that has no pretensions to be anything other than a basic bit of kit.
But first, the criticisms, although they are fairly minor. The upper half of the bag is well padded and protected at the sides but not at the very top, which is where padding is most needed. Thankfully, there's an old tip that can minimise this problem. Just get a broom handle, cut it down so that it's half an inch longer than your driver, and put it in your golf bag alongside your woods. That way, if the flight coverall is thrown head first against something solid, the broom handle and not your precious Callaway or Cobra will take the brunt of the impact.
The other minor quibble is that the main carrying handle - bearing in mind you'll be lugging around something that weighs anywhere between 25-50lbs, is a bit thin and could have done with a touch more padding. However, this is a small point because in most instances you'll be pulling the bag behind you rather than carrying it like a suitcase.
In this regard the Hi-Tec Flight Coverall works extremely well; the wheels are integrated into a sturdy, rigid base and roll easily. Small things matter and I once had to give away an otherwise excellent flight bag because, for reasons known only to themselves, the manufacturers had fitted it with plastic wheels that were grooved, with the result that on any flat surface (such as an airport terminal or railway station floor) they made a loud noise that became very embarrassing as people could hear you coming long before you hove into view.
No such worries with this Hi-Tec bag. Another bonus is that because it is smaller (a standard cart bag can just about be squeezed into it but it's more suited to a stand bag) it is much easier to manoeuvre around. The TaylorMade is so capacious that it can be unwieldy and you find yourself looking around for a porter (who can never be seen, of course, when you most need them) but no such worries with the Hi-Tec.
The coverall also has an external shoe pocket which just about takes a pair of gents size 11 and room for a business card or address details. But the best bit of all is the price - at an RRP of £30 this is the nearest thing to a bargain it's possible to get in golf nowadays.
The bag you opt for will depend on a number of things - the frequency with which you go abroad to golf; the size of bag you want to take and so on. If you travel a lot, can afford it and want to do it in style, get the TaylorMade; if you simply want a basic coverall at an excellent price, buy Hi-Tec.
|| 16 - DECEMBER 2003