Bag the stag party &mdash grooms these days engage in war games

John Thurman has all of the right tools for a successful bachelor party: a horde of guns, unlimited ammo, face masks and battle fatigues. Gather 'round, he'll tell the lucky groom and his mates, it's time to go to war.

Before you start thinking that these bachelor party participants seem to be taking an unnecessary amount of precaution against possibly unscrupulous strippers, consider again.

The stag party of old is becoming just that — old.

Thurman is the operator of Battlegrounds, a paintball field on the outskirts of Springfield, Ill., where the game has become an outdoor activity that is gaining popularity for bachelor parties nationwide. Thurman says at least eight groups in the last season have laid siege on his field, choosing a jousting jaunt instead of an all-night beer binge.

"If this was around back when I got married six years ago, I probably would have done it for my own bachelor party," Thurman says.

Today, more and more men are doing just that. Bachelor parties are trading in the porn flick for a weekend golf outing, tossing the exotic dancer for a sports event. They're throwing out the dank bar or motel room and reveling in a posh hotel suite, complete with fine wine, extravagant dinners and even a little gambling on the side.

"What we're seeing is a moving away from the bars and strip joints," says Marc Wheeler, vice president of marketing for, a Denver-based company that, among other things, tracks wedding trends for the groom. "They're traveling more for bachelor parties and going off to weekend destinations."

Based on annual nationwide surveys conducted by the Web site, which is owned by Bridal Magazine, the company has noticed a shift in stag party entertainment, Wheeler says.

The most popular bachelor party destination? Las Vegas. The most popular activity? Golf, followed closely by major sporting events.

"Versus going out to the bars and just pounding beers, that was my choice," says newly married Scott Long, a Springfield, Ill., resident who took in a Cardinals game in St. Louis for his bachelor party. The 33-year-old Long, plus 20 friends and relatives, passed on an all-night beer binge for something everyone would enjoy. He even turned down a bachelor party staple — the stripper.

The whole point of a bachelor party began as a last farewell of sorts. Ancient Spartan soldiers reportedly were the first to hold what came to be known as stag parties. The groom would feast with his male friends on the night before the wedding as a way of saying goodbye to his carefree days and pledging his loyalty to his friends.

The bonding part hasn’t changed, but why has there been a recent shift in activities?

Wheeler says statistics show that today's groom is more mature than his predecessor, wiser and financially secure enough for a bachelor party that bucks the old-school stag party trends.

"We're seeing that the groom is slightly older, more settled down," Wheeler says, noting that the marrying age for a man has increased to 29 years from 27 in the last decade. "Because of that, they have the financial stability to do bigger, better things."

When the Web site first sprang up in 1998, the bachelor party was at its most primordial. "But they're moving in another direction, going on these outings and hitting these destinations."

Just ask Springfield's Cass Casper about great bachelor party destinations.

"I've been to other bachelor parties where we've gone to Myrtle Beach to golf, Lake Tahoe to golf and gamble, another in Las Vegas," says Casper, who went to Chicago for his own bachelor blow-out in November 1999. "For all of those trips, you've got golf as a major part of the trip. And gambling."

Casper hit Chicago with 20 friends for his November 1999 bachelor party. They went to a Chicago Bears football game and played a game called whirley ball in bumper cars.

Some women see bachelor parties as caveman-like, chest-thumping wastes of time, but for men, this is an important waste of time. As Casper says, today's activity-oriented bachelor parties still have something in common with the raucous stag parties the Spartans seem to have held.