In compiling our all-new Golf World Top 100 Courses For £60 And Under, rankings editor Chris Bertram discovered that too many of Britain and Ireland's courses are charging far too much money for the quality they offer.
Researching the courses that were eligible for our first Top 100 Under £60 ranking was eye-opening. I had pre-conceived ideas about what would be in the list, but I was frankly miles off.
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Only Berkhamsted (geographic reason) and Nefyn (bucket list reason) of the courses in the 100 surprised me with their eligibility – but as many as 50 courses couldn’t be included that I thought would be contenders. That’s a lot of courses.
You could absolutely accuse me of being a little out of touch because I very often am fortunate enough to receive courtesy when I play somewhere new – although, that said, I am also often writing about courses and sniffing around their details on websites.
There was a ‘type’ of course I expected to be ripe for inclusion – and indeed expected them to dominate the upper end of the list. They weren’t going to be the names that fill the majority of the top 50 of our GB&I ranking or even the top end of our best courses in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland lists.
I felt it was going to be the courses that come next. In fact, I thought Scottish courses would dominate this ranking to a potentially embarrassing degree. I’m not talking about Dornoch, Kingsbarns or Troon. These are World Top 100 courses. I’m not even talking about less flashy names such as Western Gailes, St Andrews (New) or Dunbar. I knew they’d be too expensive.
But there are as many as 25 courses ‘underneath’ these courses that were too expensive – and not by £5 or £10. By £20. Ireland is similar. Of course I didn’t expect Portmarnock, Ballybunion, Old Head etc to be in – I understand why they are so expensive and for the world-class experience they offer, you could even make an argument they even offer good value.
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I thought some of the courses ‘below’ these superstar names – the likes of Portsalon, Donegal and Portstewart – might be eligible. None was, but fair enough, I thought – because the courses ‘underneath’ that section are wonderful and lots of them will be eligible. Alas, very, very few were.
These are superb courses and in many other countries would be superstars. So perhaps they are correctly priced £80 or £90 a round. But it also occurs to me that they are just £90 to catch the overseas golfer who, they think, won’t take notice of them unless they are expensive. If that is the reason, and they feel more likely to attract a fourball of £90s now and again than two fourballs at £40 more frequently, for all I know they might be correct. They might have their business model spot on.
But where does that leave the UK golfer? It is a shame that, if you are on a trip to the Highlands and naturally want to play Dornoch and Castle Stuart you aren’t able to balance your books with a couple of £40 rounds on the lower-profile but still Top 100-calibre courses. Well, you can, at Covesea – but there are several in the area whose green fee surprised me.
Some might say that you can play these courses on deals and at certain times and the rack rate is just a starting point. Why is it such a negotiation?! We aren’t in a Marrakesh market! If you can play for £40 in reality, why not state that rather than make it some sort of omerta?
And, anyway, I thought we were all keen for golf to seem less elitist? These green fees at courses that are not world-famous venues do not scream ‘inclusion’ to me.
People will say watching football is as expensive and you only get 90 minutes’ fun from that. Well, by that yardstick we should all just go to the cinema as it far better value.
Eighty pounds is a lot of money. I think £60 is quite a lot for a round to be honest. Under £50 ‘feels’ more likely to be snapped up by the average UK golfer (so we are delighted the average fee in our new ranking is £43).
You might say I am ignorant of the costs involved in running a golf club – and you’d be correct. Even though I’m immersed in golf clubs, I wouldn’t claim for a second to be an expert; they will, I’m sure, have costs
I wouldn’t ever think about. And given I am all about the course, I might query the worth of some off-course costs. I’d also query if enormous cost was spent on trying to get courses in Augusta-like nick. Condition is way down my list of priorities – lower than many people’s, I’m sure – but if a course was slightly less ‘manicured’ and it meant £15 off the green fee, I’d be all for that (preferably save on fertiliser, irrigation etc rather than greens staff losing their jobs).
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In any case, how do other clubs manage it? How does Berkhamsted in the south of England, the most expensive part of the country, manage to present a Top 100-quality course for £60 not £90? Or Crowborough Beacon in well-heeled Sussex? These are not raw, Western Isles links with two members of staff.
Playing a really good course is escapism and a treat and perhaps I am troubled by something that doesn’t infuriate most of you. Yet I can’t believe cost doesn’t put plenty off playing these ‘middle tier’ courses and I think it is a shame more people don’t financially have the chance.
Perhaps the clubs have it right. If they are the prices required to balance out their costs, fair enough. If it is down to marketing considerations and to be viewed as one of the big prizes in the hope of landing a £360 four ball now and again, I’ve less sympathy.
The good news is, as our Top 100 ranking proves, there are plenty of high-class alternatives – I am very, very pleased we are highlighting them with our original ranking.