What’s your limit? How much are you prepared to pay for a round of golf?
Think about that for a minute. Is it €50, €80, €100, €150…?
I’m pretty positive you have a limit because it’s like anything else you pay for. Do you buy premium, mid-range, own label? Brown Thomas, River Island, Dunnes? Mercedes, Volkswagen, Dacia? You probably dip in and out depending on the importance you place on the item you are buying. So perhaps own label for your groceries but Mercedes for your car. In other words, you value some things more than others.
I’m not going to dive into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but your green fee limit will usually depend on the importance golf plays in your life. Yes, disposable income influences things but it’s more complicated than that. How does golf fit into your family’s life? What about time and financial commitments? Is golf a passion, a hobby or just a distraction?
All of these combine to shape your opinion and that’s not mentioning the perspective of your regular playing partners. It is something debated in clubhouse bars, on forums, in WhatsApp groups. It’s little wonder because forking out €100 here and there can lead to ‘discussions’ at home.
Green fees range from cheap to very expensive. You can play one of my favourite ‘small’ courses, Fermoy, for €35. Adare will cost you €475, including caddie. Is there really a 1,400 percent difference in the golf experience between the two courses? They both offer 18 holes of golf but Fermoy has one fulltime greenkeeper to Adare’s 52. Fermoy is well maintained, while Adare is immaculate. Fermoy has a neat, comfortable clubhouse while Adare comes with all the trimmings of a globally recognised resort with a Ryder Cup on the horizon.
But this still misses the main point of green fee costs. It is a debate I can’t win. A golf course is not a football pitch, a tennis court, a swimming pool. It’s a vast area that can cover hundreds of acres. It has 9, 18, 27 and more holes – up to 63 at Rosapenna – that have to be maintained. (Imagine your reaction if you paid €50 and the course wasn’t pristine!)
Maintaining a course and its landscape is expensive. Machinery, a vast array of materials and greenkeepers working their butts off every single day… that don’t come cheap. And prices for everything are going through the roof. You know that as well as I do.
Now add in the aspirational value of having world-class courses that golfers from around the globe will pay thousands of euro to come and play. Supply and demand is one of the simplest economic principles to understand. If there’s short supply (our links courses make up a third of the world’s total) and high demand (Americans most notably) then prices will rise. It happens in every single business so why would golf be any different?
How about the premium branding found at our more high-end parklands (K Club, Mount Juliet, Adare…)? When you offer a top quality product and make yourself more aspirational you can charge higher prices. Again, this is typical of every industry.
It’s tough on Irish golfers who want to play Ballybunion, Portmarnock, Druids Glen, or Adare. Sometimes you have to dig deep to get what you want. But you will find exceptions to the rule. Arklow, Macreddin, North West, Rathcore, and Portarlington offer serious value for money… as do many more. Plus, Golf Ireland rates reduce the rack rate fees we so commonly use for reference.
And I’m not saying golf clubs should be given a pass on green fees. Definitely not. There are places where ‘exuberance’ has taken hold and fees have veered towards the excessive. However, if the demand is there then don’t expect those rates to fall. Why would they when our biggest international markets see Irish golf as being affordable.
The purpose of this article is not to tell you that your limit is wrong or unreasonable, rather it is to highlight why green fees cost what they do. And if you look hard enough, you will find ways to play some of those courses you’ve always thought were out of reach.