Rose Bowl… Kentucky Derby… Winter Olympics… Masters Golf

Would you like to take a vacation where you can watch your favorite teams in action? Today, several sports vacation companies can do the planning for you — tickets, transportation, sports-oriented sightseeing and lodging. Bottom Line/Retirement asked one of the pioneers in the field, Jay Smith of Sports Travel and Tours, to tell us about the services that these companies offer…

My company, Sports Travel and Tours (800-662-4424, www.sportstravelandtours.com), and several others in the business — including Sports Empire (562-920-3395, www.sports-empire.com), Esoteric Sports (800-321-8008, www.esotericsports.com) and Roadtrips (800-465-1765, www.roadtrips.com) — offer many types of vacations for fans of baseball, auto racing, basketball, football, golf, hockey, horse racing, soccer, tennis and rodeos, as well as multisport events, such as the Olympics.

Most of these companies emphasize North American sports, but they also can arrange trips to overseas events. Some of the best sports vacations…

  • The Rose Bowl. The big game between winners of the Pacific-10 and Big Ten college football conferences takes place January 1, 2010, in Pasadena, California. Sports Empire offers accommodations from December 30 to January 2, grandstand parade tickets, an optional tour of Universal Studios, end-zone tickets to the game and all ground transportation. Price: $1,280 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare. Better game seats are available from $250 to $900 per person.
  • Masters Tournament. One of the most exciting events in golf will take place at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, from April 10 to April 12, 2010. Esoteric Sports offers a vacation to the event, including two nights in a hotel near the golf course, car rental, daily breakfast and admission to the final round of the Masters. Price: $2,600 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare.
  • NBA All-Star Game. On February 14, 2010, millions of TV sets will be tuned to the All-Star basketball game in Arlington, Texas. Roadtrips will put you in the stands (with dozens of celebrity fans) and provide accommodations for two nights. Price: $1,155 per person, double occupancy, not including airfare.
  • THE INSIDE TRACK

    An advantage of using travel companies that specialize in sports is that they usually can get tickets to events that might otherwise be impossible to get, such as play-offs, all-star games or Triple Crown horse races.

    Example: Would you like to attend the induction ceremony for new members of the hall of fame for baseball, football or another sport? Sports vacation companies can get you tickets and provide transportation and lodging. And how about playing some golf before or after you watch the Masters? That’s also easy to arrange through most of these companies.

    If you like horse racing, my company offers a four-day trip to next year’s Kentucky Derby for about $2,000 to $4,000 a head for a two-person vacation. The trip includes first-floor grandstand seats at the Derby and the same quality seats at the Kentucky Oaks, a pre-Derby race for three-year-olds.

    If you won’t make it to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, think about the Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, in February 2010. Roadtrips offers tours that start at $4,675 per person.

    If you’re in the mood for something more quintessentially American, think about rodeos. Sports Empire sells vacations to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this December. The price per person, double occupancy, ranges from $395 to $550 a day.

    Playing it smart: In choosing a sports vacation company, ask for names of clients you can contact for references. Don’t deal with a company that refuses to give you these names. It’s also a plus when a company belongs to either the National Tour Association (800-682-8886, www.ntaonline.com) or the American Society of Travel Agents (703-739-2782, www.asta.org). The organizations do a good job of weeding out less-than-reputable companies.