AUBURN-OPELIKA, Ala. - I always have pretty much the same conversation with myself when this filthy-rich buddy of mine calls up, acting all superior, wanting me to play at a nearby golf course that charges $100 green fees.
The first part of the conversation always involves a comparative, financial analysis. Let's see, $100 could buy:
• About two weeks worth of groceries.
• Two full tanks of gas, even at current prices.
• One new "outfit," according to my wife.
• Ten hours of tennis, two days of bowling, two weeks of fishing.
• Five hits of prime, crack cocaine.
As you can see, I get desperate toward the end of this conversation. Then, I think: Let's see, they're charging $100, which means it's a fairly prestigious course, which means they got a big-name architect, which means he made the course as hard as he could get away with, which means I will lose at least 10 balls, which means three sleeves of ProV1s or 10 cases of Top-Flites at Wal-Mart.
Then there's the drinks at the end of the round, which I always seem to end up buying (he's filthy rich for a reason), new tees and all the assorted junk you end up buying at the golf shop.
Then I enter into the final phase of my rumination. Golf is too damn expensive. How did it get this way?
I'll tell you how, at least partly. They've built too many new courses that charge too much. Golf is an iffy financial investment these days unless, it seems, it's part of a ritzy new development. The developer can lose money on the course, but make it back by charging more for the housing. Then, this semi-private course reaches its membership goals and goes private, locking you out. Now you can't play there even if you could afford it.
There's no way anyone should have to pay $100 to play golf. You should be able to play a good course for around $30-$50. It's possible. I know it is. In fact, I just traveled to a place not so far away where it's an everyday happening.
The Auburn-Opelika area was voted the top metro area in the U.S. by Golf Digest. Among other reasons is the price. I've played some excellent courses here and the green fees were in the range I just mentioned.
A lot of these "upscale" courses charge so much because of their misguided financial plans as well as "amenities." Let me give you greedy business types some tips: I'm betting the vast majority of golfers could do without the amenities.
Ditch all the pretty flowers and fancy landscaping. I want pretty flowers, I'll go for a walk in the woods or to the botanical gardens. Make your courses more natural and save landscaping fees, which we pay for anyway.
Ditch the ball boys who wipe down your clubs without asking, then look at you like you're Donald Trump. Now you have to fumble through your wallet to see if you have any singles. At the worst, you won't have any singles and have to tip him a $5 bill. At the very least, it's an awkward social situation.
Knock out the management companies and save yourself the corporate overhead. You don't need to wait weeks to get permission to offer discounts and specials. You can do it on your own, spur of the moment. You know what's going on in your own community, they don't because they're usually hundreds of miles away.
Ditch the fancy clubhouse. All you need is a little shack where I can check in, a little grill where I can buy a hot dog and a bar where I can buy post-round drinks. A good bartender is worth 100 times more than all the personnel combined in a golf management company.
Get rid of any swimming pools, fitness centers and tennis courts. When's the last time a buddy called up and said, "hey, let's go play 18 holes of golf and three sets of tennis."
And as for you architects, don't make the rough impenetrable. Have you checked the prices of golf balls today? Give me some rough where I can at least have a chance of finding my ball, and don't make the stuff too close to the fairways. We aren't all Tiger Woods. Think about the average golfer, who shoots well into the 90s, when you design your little course.
I may boycott newer courses that charge outrageous prices and stick to the old reliables that offer good golf without all the fancy baloney. There are still many around, like Hyde Park in Jacksonville, Fla., which charges under $50, and Possum Trot in Myrtle Beach, which does the same. Just to name a couple.
The game of golf picks up about three million newcomers a year, but loses that or a little more annually. Think about it: if they could keep half the ones quitting, the industry would make a fortune and then we could all look at the pretty flowers.
August 29, 2005