Some pricey places are really a rip-off

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

CHICAGO -- What would you pay for a good steak? A great steak? $25? $30? What would you pay for box seat tickets to a Cubs-Cardinals match-up at Wrigley? $100? $200? What would you pay for 18-holes of golf? Depends on the golf, right? If it's Pebble, you might dish out the $395 green fee with little hesitation. If the course can be justified, we'll gladly strap-it-on the old credit card. Golfers are like that.

But what makes a golf course worth the money? The layout? The history? The challenge? The conditions? The good-looking beverage cart girl? Probably a little of all the above. Problem is, one golfer's justifiable $150 green fee is another golfer's rip-off.

Consider a round you've played where you simply thought you weren't getting what you paid for. The course just didn't live up to its hefty price. It's happened to all of us. And in Chicago, where there are plenty of superb courses, there are also a number of pricey places to tee it up; places that don't always meet the expectations.

Digging Too Deep

Green fees are up all around Chicago. And although some price hikes make sense, others are just out of line. Too many courses, even very good ones, now have green fees that have grown too big for their knickers.

Dubsdread, Cog Hill No. 4 - "The only time the place is in its best shape is a few weeks before the Western Open," the words of one resident of Chicago's southwest suburbs who stopped playing Cog Hill's Dubsdread last year after being frustrated by the $130 green fee and what he termed the "sloppy" conditions around the

"I don't think Dubs is as good as it used to be," he says. "At least not on a regular basis."

Those comments are heard fairly regularly about what many in Chicago consider one of the Midwest's best layouts. The PGA Tour loves the place and the Tour players do too. That's why every year they come back to Dubsdread in Lemont, Illinois to put on the Western Open. But over the years the green fee has skyrocketed. People want to play a Tour golf course, and the management at Cog understands that. Why not hike the price if the demand is up? But there remains the criticism that Dubs just isn't always worth $130 a round when conditions are not consistent.

The Ravines Course, Cog Hill No. 2 - The No. 2 course at Cog Hill used to be the best bargain in town. You could play it for less than $30 and get a decent challenge on a heavily wooded, hilly, tricky piece of land. But then came the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1997 and some updates to the layout. The price jumped and the green fee of $51 simply doesn't justify the course anymore. Yes, there have been significant updates to several holes, but still, it's not a $51 golf course considering some of the very good park district courses that charge less than $50, cart included.

Seven Bridges Golf Club - This was once one of the more sought after tee times around Chicago. The course brought superb conditions, a wonderful clubhouse, and offered a really stylish day of premier golf. Today, the conditions remain good, the clubhouse is wonderful with a great view, but development has placed more homes, buildings and noise around the place. And there is no longer a driving range at the course. Development ate it up. Is this a golf course worth $80-$109?

The Glen Club - This is a wonderful Tom Fazio experience. Tremendous shaping and a thoughtful layout is just what you want in a golf course. Plus, nearly every year, The Glen Club is voted one of Chicago's best courses, and deservedly so. But can you justify $130 to play it? Just like Seven Bridges, The Glen Club is surrounded by development with more development to come and there remains a school of thought that a $130 green fee should not include views of stores, homes, and car horns from the nearby congested streets. Drop the fee below $100, and the experience-equals-price ratio balances out nicely.

Ruffled Feathers Golf Club- Neat layout, top conditions, plenty of challenge, but $125? This is a golf course, albeit a good one, that sits inside a housing development. The conditions, the course, the challenge are all just as good at Harborside International or Cantigny Golf Club, one of the finest walks-in-the-park anywhere, and they're going to charge you less than $90. And just a few miles down I-55 from Ruffled Feathers you'll find Heritage Bluffs Golf Course in Channahon, Illinois where you can play a secluded beauty for $60.

You Get What You Pay For

Each one of the above courses gives you a very good day of golf, but at a time when the golfer has choice and a budget, it's time to get choosey. Real choosey. Economics, reputation, overhead, and competition all play a part in developing an equitable green fee and there is no doubt plenty of thought goes into determining what to charge. But ultimately, we, as golfers, have the final decision. Sure, splurging for a special experience is something all golfers want to do a couple times a season, but we also want to be sure we are getting our money's worth.

Affordable golf is key to the game's economic future. In the 1980's, when corporate expense accounts were paying for hefty green fees without the slightest hesitation, the price of playing was an afterthought for the accounting department. Today, people are looking for good deals, bargains, and are saving up a few bucks for that special tee time. However, that one special tee time better be everything it's cracked up to be and the course better live up to every penny of its price.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • OverPriced Golf

    Dale Durbin wrote on: Apr 29, 2005

    Relative to golf distinations around the country, our prices for golf are in line. The Glenn Club, Dubs, Seven Bridges, and others are premium places to play in our area and I believe they do warant their prices for weekend play. I take advantage of the afternoon rates at most of these course and the real bargin is their twilight rates. No if you want to talk about over priced course, pick any course in Las Vegas. They have some might fine ones but you won't find any under $140 for out of towners.


    • RE: OverPriced Golf

      John Cassin wrote on: May 24, 2005

      All those courses hold themselves in such high regard that they've forgotten that there's more to that price tag than golf. Ruffled Feathers & Seven Bridges have completely lost customer focus with there snobish attitude and take-it-or-leave-it form of customer service. 7 Bridges (No Range, caters to outings), Ruffled Feathers (Range open sometimes, but not early in the day, they misrepresent what good course conditions constitute,sand covered greens and tees, aeration does not warrant $125). Dubs, couse conditions great right before the Open not a premium course most of the year, add to that the most cranky, old pro shop attendant I've ever met and rangers that cater to their "comped" weathermen & sportscasters. The Glen Club is where the word rude was invented. Accross the staff a complete lack of customer focus. You can also add Prairie Landing to the group of overpriced.
      Cantigny probably the best overall experience in Chicagoland (Pro shop items overpriced) or drive to TPC @ Deer Run


  • Over Priced Golf (re Cog Hill Courses)

    Al Woody wrote on: Jan 10, 2005

    I started playing the Cog Hill courses back in the late fifties. We had a great Monday mens club and 3 courses to play on.
    Joe Jemsek got the idea to have a Major tourney on the property, so # 4. Well he did get the Western, and since then the prices for all of the courses have shot up.
    Some people reccomend boycotting, that silly, brand new golfers really don't know when prices were less, so thwey just keep lining up. So it goes.


    • RE: Over Priced Golf (re Cog Hill Courses)

      J. Andersen wrote on: Sep 7, 2005

      Have to agree that Cog is overpriced. I played #2 twice this summer, once in a corporate outing and once with friends. People from out of town were appalled at the condition of tees and fairways. Staff was pleasant during the outing, but when I went with friends they acted like they were doing us a favor by taking our money.


  • Golf over priced

    paul maas wrote on: Jan 7, 2005

    Hi Dave Just read your article, until we stop lineing up for tee times the;ll keep charging. Try the new Lost Marsh in hammond Ind. 29 for residents 39 for instaters 49 for out of staters pretty much of a hit, thanks for listening Long and straight Paul