Ashlee Ciora had spent two decades marketing and promoting travel destinations in the hospitality and tourism industry when she made a career-shifting discovery.
She had worked for L.A. Tourism, promoting destination travel to Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Arizona, and the Palm Springs, California, area. Ciora knew those markets as well as anyone, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and travel screeched to a halt, she lost her job.
Ciora headed home to Minnesota to figure out what was next, believing she would stay in the travel industry when the public felt safe again to explore.
The time away gave her a chance to think about aspects of her industry that she had enjoyed most. In analyzing past work assignments, she began consulting former travel industry associates.
“Many of my clients were in Scottsdale, and one of my focus areas was in the golf market,” said Ciora, who plays in the Minnesota Metro chapter of the LPGA Amateur Golf Association. “Every time I had worked with them, we were putting together itineraries and marketing materials for men’s golf groups.”
The real epiphany came while she was playing golf with a group of women in Minnesota and was asked whether she could plan a golf trip for them once they were able to start traveling again.
“A lot of the golf tour operators I know are focused on the big bucket-list type of golf destinations or rounds rather than the experience of a trip. I try to target women who enjoy the game, but for whom golf might not be the only reason they want to travel.” — Ashlee Ciora
“I started thinking about all of these things and called a couple of my former clients who were in the golf tour operator side and they said, ‘Ashlee, it’s an untapped market,’” she said.
So, that was the start of what became her new travel company, Women on Fairways. Her purpose as founder and CEO was to create golf trips for women, designed by women, with a focus on experiential golf travel called “Swing & Sip Golf Experiences” that prioritize far more than just the golf being played. Female golf travelers using her services may come on scheduled trips solo or with groups.
The more she thought about it, the more Ciora believed that women generally “travel differently than men” and that many female golfers also want different things than men when they travel to play golf.
“A lot of the golf tour operators I know are focused on the big bucket-list type of golf destinations or rounds rather than the experience of a trip,” she said. “I try to target women who enjoy the game, but for whom golf might not be the only reason they want to travel.”
Because of her career history with top U.S. travel destinations, Ciora also has first-hand experience at many resorts, as well as personal contacts at those facilities who are willing to work with her to welcome female golfers and provide them with a positive travel experience.
“I focus on the luxury golf resort experience because I know the amenities are going to be geared toward women, with wellness and culinary options,” Ciora said. “I also know that the luxury resort golf courses, along with the pro shop, locker room and the other amenities that go with the golf, will be more friendly toward women. I’ve found that women value those things maybe a little bit more than guys.”
A typical “Swing & Sip Golf Experience” with her company entails Ciora planning each step of the traveler’s four-night luxury golf trip from start to finish. Though golfers book their own flights, Ciora is available to offer suggestions about airports, flights, arrivals and departures. From that point, she arranges for a driver to meet them and collect their belongings at the airport baggage claim and take them to the resort.
Ciora welcomes each traveler at the resort upon arrival, helps them get checked in and then hosts a welcome reception that evening to discuss the itinerary for two days of golf with a day in between for destination activities. Her typical clientele are women in their early 40s to mid-70s.
On a recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, the group combined golf with a day trip to Texas Hill Country for wine tours. For a February 2024 trip to Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Ciora will lead her group in golf, as well as a bike ride around Hilton Head, followed by lunch on the beach.
“We try to add different activities that are unique to the destination,” she said. “There will be a variety of different golf trips for women to choose from based on their hobbies and interests other than golf.”
Participants on the 2024 Hilton Head trip also will have an opportunity to participate in a 2½-hour golf clinic with Julie Cole, an LPGA top-50 teaching professional, followed by lunch and 18 holes of golf at the resort.
“I look at golf destinations and resorts that might have a woman teaching pro on site,” Ciora said. “We try to give our guests an opportunity to receive some high-level instruction to work on their games.”
“I want those ‘wow’ moments on all of these trips so when these women leave, they will always remember something special about their time together.” — Ashlee Ciora
All skill levels are welcome for Women on Fairways tours. Ciora stresses that the focus is noncompetitive and social. Participants on her tours typically make friendships that extend beyond the golf travel destinations where they have met.
“The idea is to have fun, enjoy the scenery and the company of other women who are all there for the same reasons,” Ciora said. “We only take 11 women on each trip, and I escort the group from the day they arrive to the day they depart.”
While golf travel destinations in Arizona and California are more well known, Ciora said a recent trip to Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri, proved to be a hit with her golfers. The Ozark scenery was spectacular, the courses were enjoyable and the hospitality was memorable.
Waiting to be served for their final dinner of the trip, her group was escorted to an outdoor patio overlooking Table Rock Lake to watch the sun set in the Missouri sky while the golfers enjoyed beverages.
“The sun was setting and the women were just in awe, and then a bagpiper started playing,” Ciora said. “I want those ‘wow’ moments on all of these trips so when these women leave, they will always remember something special about their time together.”
Women on Fairways will return to Branson in 2024. There also will be a trip in January 2024 to Palm Beach, Florida, as well as 2024 trips to Scottsdale, Monterey, California, and northern Michigan. Ciora also hopes to add golf trips for women to the Caribbean and her home state of Minnesota.
Because her company is still small and growing, Ciora is willing to help small groups of women customize their trips if cost is an issue. The average price for her luxury four-night domestic golf trips is around $5,000 (excluding airfare), but she can help value-conscious golfers by eliminating some of the typical luxury aspects of a high-end tour, such as fine dining, activities or wellness appointments.
To help female golfers better understand Women on Fairways trips and to get to know her, Ciora also holds live webinars on her website (https://www.womenonfairways.com) called “Wine Wednesdays,” in which she discusses the resorts, courses and amenities on the tours she leads. She also plans to include guest speakers to help women become more comfortable and familiar with her product.
“I feel like my career has brought me to this point because I have been able to bring all aspects of my work to the travel side,” Ciora said.
“Women on Fairways provides an opportunity for women to do something for themselves and to build relationships with others. I’m really proud of that and what I’ve been able to do over the last couple of years as Women on Fairways gets more noticed.”
© 2023 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: Ashlee Ciora’s company, Women on Fairways, targets women who want golf to be part of their travel, not the only reason for it. Courtesy Ashlee Ciora
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