Some pricey places are really a rip-off
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.
November 22, 2004