Grandma Sets Us Straight

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Two-fifty for a bottle of water!
 
The speaker was my mother-in-law, who fairly spat the words as she shoved salad around her plate. She and my wife and my son had just come back from an afternoon at Epcot, where Grandma saw for the first time what Disney makes the market bear.
 
Grandma, economically careful throughout her life in northeastern Pennsylvania, is certainly not cheap. But she is proud of her frugality. Two-fifty for something that costs $1.25 just outside the gates offends her. Heck, paying for something that comes from the tap offends her.
 
Grandma is not a golf fan, but she knows that golf provides a nice life for her daughter, grandson, and son-in-law. So if Jack Nicklaus happened by the little neighborhood grocery Grandma runs in Wilkes-Barre, chances are hed be treated to a free Coke.
 
But Grandma got me to thinking. Just why do so many of us pay exorbitant prices to play this game? Leave equipment out of it for a moment. Think access. In some places, the cost of four hours recreation on the golf course has escalated out of proportion to other leisure time choices.
 
Lets skip through Golf Digests Places to Play, a nifty little paperback the magazine produces with travel book leader Fodors. In the new fifth edition, there are separate classifications for Great and Good values. That alone ought to tell you something.
 
But look at some of the prices. They run a broad gamut. Ill flip pages at random.
 
Sunrise Golf Club, Sarasota, Fla.: $47 (the highest fee listed; these examples all list a courses top fee). Sharon Woods Golf Course, Cincinnati: $21. Legacy Golf Links, Aberdeen, N.C.: $99. Long Island National Golf Club, Riverhead, N.Y.: $100. Jester Park Golf Course, Granger, Iowa: $22. Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.: $350. Canmore Golf & Curling Club, Canmore, Alberta, Canada: $48.
 
Whats going on? Even accounting for differences in amenities, one can still legitimately ask, why is some golf so expensive while other tracks seem like a bargain? You cant put it off to goat-track syndrome. Some of the reviewers comments in Places to Play congratulate less-expensive layouts for fine conditioning.
 
Surely, there is some greed involved, episodes of overpricing driven by a mania for big, black numbers on income statements. Another culprit may be what I call Mortons Disease: Great food, high prices, all based on the existence of big corporate expense accounts (see daily fee, upscale). And the insistence of some golfers on wall-to-wall green, instead of a more realistic tinge of brown on the edges of fairways and greens in summer, can push maintenance budgets to the point where green fees must also swell.
 
But the reasons dont interest me as much as the effect. Those of you who read this space regularly know that although I dont have the game for it, I love to play wonderful, classic courses. But even a dyed-in-the-Scottish-wool fan such as me has to blanch at the idea of Pebbles tariff. (Im not sure if they even have a media rate, but I cant imagine it descends to my comfort level.)
 
Every region has its green fee comfort level. Forty-five dollars is bargain basement in Westchester County, N.Y. (if it even exists). Its pricey in southern Illinois.
 
Every person has a comfort level, too. For me, a round of golf had better border on the religious to be worth more than about $60.
 
But consider this: How much does it cost to do other things? You can take a family of four bowling for a couple hours for about $20, at least here in Orlando. Kids can play soccer on the local field for a slice of your real estate taxes. Same for the basketball hoop down at the high school. No YMCA program ' swimming, hoops, baseball, you name it ' costs as much per hour as a round at White Columns Golf Club in Alpharetta, Ga. ($120 divided by, say, five hours equals $24 per hour.)
 
Skateboarding, rollerblading: The cost is done once you get the gear. Video games: Same thing. Surfing: Ditto, dude.
 
For all but a small segment of North American golfers, cost matters. Lets put that problem in our participation pipeline ' and smoke it out.