The Loop

Cost of Golf

Texan Bob Spensley might have been reading my mind but he was definitely reading John Hawkins' rant about the cost of the game.



I just finished reading the April 25 issue and was really impressed with what the Angry Golfer had to say. John was right on the money, no pun intended, when he expressed distain for the ridiculous fees that are being charged for people to play golf these days. I notice that lots of the courses in Dallas are empty most of the time because of a couple of reasons. One is that they all think that they are the premiere course in the Metroplex and therefore can be private and exclusive and the other reason is that the one's that allow daytime play for non-members are either too expensive or not well maintained. Golf, which used to be the sport of the elite few, has tried to become the new sport of the masses with such extensive coverage on television and the multitude of magazines. Thanks to the success of people like Tiger Woods, Phil Michelson, Ernie Els, and the ever favorite John Daly, the sport has begun to thrive and even the youth, both male and female, are expressing an interest. The greed of the course owners is the only thing that could stifle the growth of the sport and the continued interest. If that happens, then Pebble Beach and the other courses will eventually be apartment complexes.

Great points, Bob. We just held a conference for our course-rating panelists in Port St. Lucie, FL, at PGA Golf Club. Much of the break-time conversation concerned the state--and the cost--of the game. One panelist, a Midwestern course owner, made the point that in his area and in most of the country there is a 15 per cent over supply of golf courses. Too many of them are high-end daily fee. Many are driven by housing projects and/or ridiculously expensive clubhouses (he wishes he'd built smaller) that force them to keep prices up. And so when golfers like yourself begin to balk at paying those prices, owners panic, cut maintenance so they can reduce prices. An evil spiral ensues. (Forget Pebble or Whistling Straits. There will always be golfers to pay premium prices at those places and the most we can hope for is that they provide special access or pricing to juniors. Mercy pricing for we golfers-on-a-budget is out of the question.)

The most creative owners and managers, however, understand your plight. Bob Baldassari, who manages PGA Golf Village, with two Tom Fazio and one Pete Dye course, is a font of ideas on keeping busy, budget-minded families in the game. Baldassari says at PGA Village they've begun "situational" pricing. Want to play nine with your son or daughter on a Saturday morning? Fine, he'll put you out on the back nine for a special fee. Want to play five holes with your wife and have dinner? No problem, that's a different, lower price. Baldassari, like his PGA Professional father before him, believes in growing the game--any form of the game. He's also realistic. "Every ten minutes that goes by with that tee empty," he says, "is an opportunity lost that will never come back." The wise ones are listening, Bob.

--Bob Carney

(Illustration: Leigh Haeger)