Green fee investigation: How much is too much?

News & Tour

James Tompkinson talks to industry experts about the tricky business of setting green fees

Trying to offer value for money is one of the trickiest aspects of running a golf club. 

Every year, every golf club has to decide how much to charge visitors in an attempt to entice them with a value-for-money rate which still provides enough income to finance the normal functioning of the club.

“Value and price are two very different things,” says England’s Golf Coast manager Geoff Harris. “There will be golf courses at £100 that I think are far better value than some are at £30.”

That makes perfect sense, even though the two are still inextricably linked. So how do they sit together in practice?

For Alan Oliver, secretary at Silloth on Solway in Cumbria, there is a simple equation. 

“Value is experience minus cost,” he said. “It’s difficult to set an amount where we say that to keep the best value, the fee needs to be this price.”

For the individual clubs, there are many factors to account for.

“I think one of the biggest areas that comes into green fee pricing is the health of your club from a membership standpoint and therefore the additional revenue that you need and how many tee times you have available beyond that,” said Southport-based Harris.

But how does that transpire at two different golf clubs?

Located 335 miles away from the remote Cumbrian links of Silloth is traditional heathland West Hill in Surrey – a club in the heart of one of England’s most well-heeled areas and one with an embarrassment of golfing riches. 

For club secretary Gina Rivett, local competition and course quality are crucial when setting her green fee rates.

“Normally you would bear in mind your competition and try and assess what you think the going rate is,” she said. “The standard of the course is extremely important, that’s what it’s all about. Golfers are not going to come and play your course if the course itself is not good.”
I think there’s a bit of a magic barrier at £50 that we’ve tried to keep under for as long as we can because there’s a real mental barrier between paying £49 and £50 Yet for Oliver, the considerations are very different.

“I don’t really look at the local clubs to be honest,” he said. 

“We’re a different golf course and we don’t feel like we have to fight the other clubs around us.

“We feel that we’ve got a very good golf course but we appreciate that we’re not centrally located so we can’t really set fees that a course of this standard should because of where we’re located. I think there’s a bit of a magic barrier at £50 that we’ve tried to keep under for as long as we can because there’s a real mental barrier between paying £49 and £50,” he said.

Which begs the question, is there a price point where a green fee rate becomes too expensive?

“There are certain clubs that are iconic which I think people would pay anything to play, so you have to be very careful about your own club,” said Rivett.

“I’m sure if you asked any golfer, if you offered up the chance to play at Augusta National, they’d probably start paying into the thousands and not think anything of it,” said Harris. 

“It’s not as simple as when you’re at the supermarket and you’re choosing between Daz, Bold and Fairy, which are all much of a muchness. Golf courses are completely different entities.”

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