Prices are on the up amid accusations that a bucket list day out is becoming out of reach for many. But how hard can you be hit in the pocket? Steve Carroll crunched the numbers
Can you afford to play the UK’s top 50 golf courses? It was a simple social media poll but the results were unanimous – many golfers feel a bucket list trip is out of the reach of their pockets.
On Twitter, nearly 84 per cent voted ‘no’, while 76 per cent agreed on LinkedIn. On National Club Golfer’s Facebook and Instagram pages, there were similar statements of discontent from golfers branding such visitor green fees as “purely for the elite”.
But what does it really cost to play the most revered layouts? We’ve looked at the top 50 courses from NCG Top 100s Great Britain & Ireland list and considered what they were charging for their peak summer weekend green fee.
Of the 46 advertising prices on their websites, the cheapest is Silloth – which many may think is a comparative bargain at £90. The most expensive is Trump Turnberry, with a round on the Ailsa on a Saturday in August rolling in at an eye-watering £475 for non-residents.
Nine of the top 50 clubs – Royal County Down, Muirfield, Turnberry, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Troon, Kingsbarns, Sunningdale Old and New and Trump International – will charge more than £300 In 2023, while 25 are weighing in at £250 or more.
Other courses of interest outside the top 50 include Machrihanish (56th), which comes in at the lower end of the scale at £120, while Gullane No 1 (62nd) is now priced at £250.
While a tee time on the Old Course has risen £100 in two years since 2021 to now stand at £295, the cost of playing the New (66th) has also climbed to £130. It’s now £160 to play the Castle (84th).
For the ultimate golf trip of a lifetime, a high summer visitors’ weekend green fee to the top 10 courses in Great Britain and Ireland would require an outlay of £3,172.
Many of these clubs do offer lower priced green fees during weekdays, while the cost can also be significantly cheaper for golfers prepared to tee it up during either the winter months or the early spring.
Others offer 36-hole day rates, which can accentuate the value at some of the most expensive courses on the list.
Green fees at GB&I’s top 50 golf courses
1. Royal County Down (Championship): £325
2. Muirfield: £325
3. St Andrews (Old): £295
4. Trump Turnberry (Ailsa): £475
5. Royal Portrush (Dunluce): £295
6. Royal Birkdale: £320
7. Carnoustie (Championship): £282
8. Royal St George’s: £275
9. Portmarnock: €300 (£265)
10. Royal Lytham & St Annes: £315
11. North Berwick: £200
12. Royal Dornoch (Championship): £250
13. Skibo Castle: Price on application
14. Sunningdale (Old): £325
15. Woodhall Spa (Hotchkin): £205 (£145 for England Golf members)
16. Sunningdale (New): £325
17. Kingsbarns: £374
18. Walton Heath (Old): £265
19. Royal Liverpool: £265
20. Ballybunion (Old): €300 (£265)
21. Cruden Bay (Championship): £180
22. Royal Troon (Old): £315
23. Waterville: €300 (£265)
24. Western Gailes: £225
25. Lahinch (Old): €275 (£240)
26. The Island: €175 (£155)
27. Trump International Aberdeen: £395
28. Alwoodley: £175
29. Gleneagles (King’s): £275
30. Ganton: £175
31. Royal Aberdeen: £215
32. St George’s Hill: £240
33. Castle Stuart: £270
34. Royal Cinque Ports: £210
35. Prestwick: £270
36. West Sussex: £150
37. Woking: £155
38. The European: €275 (£240)
39. Formby: £260
40. Burnham & Berrow (Championship): £155
41. Saunton (East): £130
42. Swinley Forest: Price on application
43. Rye: Price on application
44. Royal Porthcawl: £195
45. Notts (Hollinwell): £175
46. Royal West Norfolk: Price on application
47. The Machrie: £180
48. County Louth: €240 (£210)
49. Hillside: £250
50. Silloth on Solway: £90
The issue was debated on an episode of the From the Clubhouse podcast with Tom Irwin and I discussing why courses were increasing their prices and what it would mean for those of us who aspire to play them.
In it, I explain why I am concerned golf at the top GB&I courses could become unattainable for all but the very wealthy: “If Turnberry is out of reach for me – and, let’s be frank, I wouldn’t pay £475 to walk the Garden of Eden – then those really amazing courses that are not Turnberry will put their prices up as well.
“So, suddenly, it’s not just the number one course or the number two course that we think, ‘Can I afford to really pay out that money?’, it’s the number 60 course, it’s the number 70 course where you start thinking, ‘That is a lot of cash’.
“My big fear is that we’ve been really lucky in the UK that most of our really great courses are accessible. It’s not the case in the United States and everybody knows it.
“And what I worry is that our best courses will still be, on the face of it, accessible at peak times but, in reality, it will just be the richest people that can afford to play.”
Alwoodley member Tom, meanwhile, looked at the uneasy relationship a club can encounter catering for both members and visitors and said the very best courses could eventually follow the example of the USA and become extremely exclusive.
“In the UK, we have golf clubs that say they are private members’ clubs but aren’t a private members’ club. They are a mishmash of some members and then some green fees,” he added.
“They’ve got this balance between saying, ‘We need to keep the membership fee accessible because the membership is the local population – and we need to have green fees to sustain it.
“Visitors and members are not natural bedfellows – they’ve got very different demands. They both want access to the golf course at the same time, because they’ve paid one way or the other.
“What is the club trying to do? Is it trying to serve its members, or is it trying to attract green fees and create a great visitor experience? Those two things are very different. The places that manage that best in Great Britain and Ireland are places like Muirfield, where you can go and play on visitor days like Tuesday and Thursday, the doors are open, there’s no codes, and you can come and go as you please.
“It’s totally different from how it is on a members’ day. These places have realised you can’t have the two things, so they split the week up and say, ‘Visitors come on these days, members on these days’.
“I think the direction of travel, and the independent golfer feeds into this, is that we will end up with courses that are entirely pay and play, and courses that are entirely private members’ clubs.”
And golfers are also railing against the upward trend in cost, with a majority of clubs on our top 50 list charging visitors more this year to play.
On Twitter, Gareth Morgan said: “I’m actually disgusted by the prices a lot of the top courses have hiked to in recent years! Top dollar was always fine but there are now courses that haven’t even hosted major events charging £350 a round simply because Americans will pay it.”
Josh Dutnall added: “Top 100 courses and what they charge is now a joke. Around the £120 a round mark some 10 years ago now looking at nearly double at most [if] not more.”
And Dave Allen said: “I can afford, just choose not to. I’d want a guarantee I was going to have the knock of my life if I was forking out into the three figures for a round of golf!”
But, in defence of the pricing, Paul Cooper added: “How much would someone pay to be able to play cricket at Lords, or football at Wembley? Golf gives us the opportunity to play where our heroes have played. I’m going to Muirfield this year and paying £499. It’s a lot, but as a special treat, I’m OK with this.”
On Facebook, Andy Jones said: “There’s a lot of courses for far less money that are equally enjoyable and with a more relaxed atmosphere in the clubhouse [that] helps you enjoy the experience to its fullest.”
Gareth Davies added: “I struggle to see anything over £100 as value for money. Apart from maybe Augusta National, although that would have to be at the right time of year. I’ve played some cracking courses at a fraction of the cost of some of these supposed top-class courses and, yes, I’ve played a few of the top ones as well. Did I find the top courses good value for money? Probably not if I’m honest.”
What do you think? Are the peak policies of our best courses justifiable and sustainable? Is a great visitors’ experience no longer worth the money? Tweet us and let us know.