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  • Alistair Tait

Time to grab a golf gem

There’s never been a better time to play the numerous hidden gems dotted around the United Kingdom. Especially with the eye watering green fee prices at many of our top clubs.

Looking to play the UK’s classic links? You better have a lot of money or take out a bank loan. Maybe you should sell your house or rob a bank first to raise the funds, because it will cost you a pretty penny. Actually, make that quite a few pretty pennies.

Kudos to UK Golf guy for some brilliant research which shows the massive jump in the cost in average summer weekend green fees at our classic clubs across the UK in the past 20 years. The figures are absolutely staggering, amounting to a 284% increase at the top end of the scale, and a 108% jump at the bottom end, with an average rise of 172% versus UK inflation of 63%.

As the figures above show, back in 2000 the average cost of weekend green fees at our elite clubs was £88 per round. It’s now £241. It’s an astronomical increase. If prices had kept pace with UK inflation, then the average price would be nearly £100 cheaper at £145.

As UK Golf guy notes:

“The great Australian golfer, and professor/student of the game, Peter Thomson said that no golf course in the world should charge more than a round at the Old Course, but now a round at Turnberry is almost twice as much.
“The increases have been eye-watering, but tee-time sheets have still been filled. There have always been enough visitors willing to pay the prices, while the local market has largely been priced out of playing some of the nation’s most revered courses.”

It’s the latter sentence that pains me. Ordinary golfers in the lower tax bracket keen to knock the UK’s top courses off their bucket list may have to think again.

Now before anyone slags me off as some sort of socialist idealist who’s campaigning for lower green fees and calling for our elite clubs to subscribe to some Marxist notion of economics, I’m not. If Royal St George’s can get away with charging £250 per round on a weekend, then so they should. Market forces and all that. I just hope the service non-members receive is worth the 284% hike.

The beauty of playing golf in the UK is that you don’t have to pay these prices to get great golf. Most of these top courses have fantastic gems practically on their doorstep with far more affordable green fees offering fantastic experiences. For every Royal Dornoch there’s a Fortrose & Rosemarkie (pictured), a Golspie, a Brora.

You don’t have to travel far from Royal St George’s to find great links. Prince’s is right next door, while two-time Open venue Royal Cinque Ports is minutes away. And if you find them a tad expensive because of their proximity to St George’s, then former Open Championship qualifying course North Foreland isn’t a million miles away. Ditto for lovely Littlestone (picture below by Jason Livy). It’s a gem of a links less than an hour away offering arguably the best collection of par-3 holes in England.

Don’t want to pay £190 to play the Old Course? The New and the Jubilee courses are fantastic. Plus, you can make a short drive to a plethora of great nearby courses – Scotscraig, Ladybank, Crail, Lundin Links, Leven Links, to name a few – that offer great golf.

Monifieth, Panmure and Montrose are all within minutes of Carnoustie and its £252 charge. Barassie, Bogside, Glasgow Gailes and the excellent Troon municipal courses offer far more affordable golf if you can’t afford to play Royal Troon and Prestwick.

Royal Birkdale is surrounded by great links in Hillside, Southport & Ainsdale, Formby, West Lancs, and Hesketh if you think £275 for 18 holes is beyond your comfort zone.

An interesting development to watch will be if these green fee prices are maintained as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The 20-year price jumps mainly stem from travelling golfers wanting to play the classic links. That market may take a wee while to return since international travel is sure to take hit as a result of the nightmare that’s swept our world. Kingsbarns, for example, has no members. It relies solely on visitors willing to pay weekend prices of £312. Wonder if it will still be that price once golf in Scotland gets going again?

Maybe the silver lining of this pandemic is that the classic courses are going to have to react to the same market forces that saw green fees rise massively over 20 years and lower their prices to keep visitor revenue coming in. The next 12 months or so might be the best time to knock these classic links off your bucket list.

Even if prices don’t come down, the gems will still be there, offering great golf at more affordable prices. Grab a few. You won’t be disappointed.

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