Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Golf in Michigan: Priceless
By Kelly Hill

If it seems as though the cost of golf has been steadily on the increase over the past few years, that is probably a most accurate perception. It is, however, also a relative assessment.

The cost of a round of golf definitely has gone up, as has the cost of your clubs, shoes, apparel and accessories. What, however, has not increased in cost in recent years? Are you now not paying more than a dollar and a half per gallon of gasoline to get you to the golf course?

"Many have complained about the cost of golf, the combination of fees and equipment spending," said Judy Thompson, a spokesperson for the National Golf Foundation. "When you consider that many of the new courses are daily-fee courses and are higher end courses, it is going to appear as though the cost is increasing. It is all relative though."

While the United States average for a round of golf cost a player $39.30 in 1999, according to the National Golf Foundation, the average cost for a round of golf in Michigan last year was a full $5.00 less than the national average, at $34.30.

According to Jim Dewling, who is the president of the Michigan Section of the PGA, but who also is president of Total Golf, which manages nine golf properties in the state and markets 12 properties, one reason why a round of golf in Michigan costs less than the national average is the involvement of municipalities in the management of golf courses.

"Reaching a price point for a golf property is very difficult," Dewling said. "That has to be done in terms of what it takes to build a top-notch facility." The golfing public, by playing or choosing not to play a particular course, decides if a property has arrived at the proper price point. "It comes down to a vote of the general public if you have the appropriate price point or you don't," Dewling said. "A signature architect and other costs also dictate your pricing point."

Michigan golfers can pay as much as $240 for a round of golf during peak season at Bay Harbor. That price point converts to $3.33 per shot if you play par golf. Arcadia Bluffs, north of Manistee, will be charging $125 while Cedar River at Shanty Creek will cost $140 on weekends. Golfers in the state can play as little as $19 or less for a round of golf if they don't mind walking. That price point converts to $0.26 per shot if you play par golf. (Perhaps those of us with higher handicaps are getting more for our money.)

"One thing that helps contain that pricing is golf provided by municipalities, parks and cities," Dewling said. "That is incredibly unfair competition to us as private operators, but it does serve to keep the costs down in some markets. In the close-in suburbs and in cities where tremendous growth has taken place, that keeps the price down. Markets like Grand Rapids and Jackson and Lansing have great public courses that have been around for a long time. Resorts charge on the merits of their properties," Dewling added.

Karen Peek is the regional manager of American Golf Corp., which manages seven properties in Michigan, four of which are courses managed for the City of Detroit and one for the Charter Township of Pontiac. "I don't believe that anyone's rates are going down," Peek said. "With so many upscale, premium courses opening, the rates at the courses that we operate are far more competitive. There is certainly a value associated with the increases, however," Peek continued. "Some of these courses have amenities that used to be associated only with private clubs."

American Golf Corp. has operated in the Detroit area for 10 years. "We have done a lot of capital improvements to our courses, so they are very competitive," Peek said. "The average golfer is not going to spend $60-$70 three or four times each week, but from what I've seen, rates have increased significantly the last few years, yet we continue to see more and more courses being built, and the market seems to be able to sustain all those new courses. Maybe this is just the result of the nation's strong economy."

Thompson, of the National Golf Foundation, has addressed the issues raised by private property operators who are attempting to compete with municipalities in the golf industry. "The purposes are different for some municipalities and that causes a problem for daily fee owners," Thompson said. "Some municipalities don't care if they make money or not. They just want to provide recreational activities for their citizens. That should be an incentive," Thompson concluded, "for more creative marketing."

Such creative marketing might be a necessity for course owners and operators, given some of the statistics uncovered by a National Golf Foundation study. In a survey of 200 of what the NGF called "Core Golfers," it was reported that green fees had more than doubled in the 10 years from 1989-1999. The percentage of those core golfers who said that the cost of golf has increased more than other things is now 50 percent higher than it was in 1989. A substantial number of those golfers (43 percent) also said they will buy less equipment today than they would have 10 years ago because of the cost, and another substantial number (34 percent) said the cost of golf has caused them to participate more in other leisure activities.

While no one seems to dispute the fact that the cost of golf is on the rise, that cost remains relative to the rising cost of other of life's pleasures, and necessities. Golf in Michigan remains less expensive than the national average, and, considering the number of golf properties available across the state, and the superior condition of those golf properties, golf in Michigan remains a bargain.

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