Visitor green fees have been rapidly rising ever since the Covid barriers came down. But, asks Steve Carroll, are we in danger of pricing the domestic golfer out of an experience, and will it come back to hurt the industry?
What’s the value of an experience? For some, money is no object – the memories and the adrenalin are worth the outlay.
For others, the prices quoted won’t represent value. The expense won’t justify the photo album.
The cost of playing a top golf course divides between players who lap up every detail and those who think they’re being ripped off.
If playing the very best layouts is a luxury, then we’ve been digging ever deeper since Covid barriers came down.
Summer green fee prices at the Old Course – the barometer of the game for many – have risen by 60 per cent in three years. A June tee time which would have cost £195 in 2021 is now £320.
The Home of Golf still comes out on the lighter side compared to the likes of Turnberry, which will cost £595 for a spin on the Ailsa during Open week.
Of the top 10 courses in NCG’S GB&I Top 100 list, only one – Portmarnock at 275 euros – is under £300.
But it’s not just at the top end where green fee prices have been rising. As those elite courses have upped their rates, so have those further down the ladder.
Supply and demand, right? If people are prepared to pay, why not charge those fees? You’ve got to keep up with the Joneses too. If you’re neighbours are charging more, don’t you need to stay in step?
Then there is the cost-of-living crisis, which has seen utility costs, and many others, surge for golf clubs.
Green fee prices: Are golf clubs in danger of biting the hand that feeds them?
Do you place the full burden on members or shift it so visitors are bearing more? If you can hit your budgets, while having fewer non-members on the property, isn’t that a utopia?
The problem with this approach is it’s biting the hand that feeds you. With only half to two-thirds of revenue at the average club arriving from member subscriptions, visitor green fees are a vital part of the overall pie.
In some vocal corners of the internet, there is a growing feeling the travelling golfer is being asked to bear too much.
David Jones, better known as UK Golf Guy, told a recent episode of The NCG Golf Podcast that while Scottish venues such as Muirfield and North Berwick were still crammed, in England and parts of Ireland it was a different story.
“I think there are fewer domestic golfers playing those particular top courses,” he said. “But I don’t know if the clubs mind.”
On the same podcast, Tom Irwin, revealed that for our NCG Top 100s Tour there was a clear price ceiling which people wouldn’t breach.
“Even for an Open venue, once we go beyond £200 and certainly £250, it becomes very difficult for us to sell those courses at that price – because they are priced for Americans.”
All well and good while golf continues to boom, and international travellers come over in numbers. What about when they have done those dream trips? Or if a stray bat grounds planes and keeps us tied closer to our homes again?
It’s a romantic notion to say the very best courses have a responsibility to remain accessible – that it is the very fact the average player can dream of treading the same steps as iconic legends of the game that makes golf so special on this side of the pond.
But clubs must tread carefully on green fee prices. Because there is an old saying – you can shear a sheep many times but skin it once. Our very best courses need to be ensure the domestic market doesn’t decide it’s being fleeced.
Should you put a price on the heart of golf?
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Now have your say
Are green fee prices at non-elite courses getting too much? What is the most you’ll pay to play a course that might not be riding high in rankings lists? Let me know by leaving a comment on X.
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