One of the oft-expressed complaints about the game of golf is that it is too expensive. Millennials, we are told, are scared away by the cost of golf (though not, apparently by a $5 coffee, $500 phones, and $1000 tattoos). The middle class is shrinking and golf is — if you believe the zeitgeist — becoming the province of the one percent.
The major golf media do not do anything to assuage cost concerns. Golf magazines and websites are full of articles on five hundred dollar drivers, three hundred dollar rounds and multi-thousand dollar golf trips. It is easy to come away with the impression that you are not a “real golfer” unless you spend lavishly on the sport.
And yet, golf does not need to be expensive. A beginner can get into the sport for a hundred dollars and play every week for the price of five coffees.
Play Older, Used Clubs
Although manufacturers and the major golf media try to convince the gullible that they need the latest (and not coincidentally, most expensive) clubs, the truth is that for most of us, ten-year-old clubs play just as well as the brand new ones. Your friendly neighborhood GolfBlogger’s favorite clubs are ten years old. On my home course, older and off-brand clubs are the norm.
At the moment I am writing this article, there are five complete sets of three-to-five-year-old, name-brand clubs advertised on my local Craigs List for under $100. Local used sporting goods stores, such as Play It Again Sports, often have similarly inexpensive deals. I have seen amazing bargains at yard sales.
For some guidance, take a look at the “Best of the Year” lists from major golf publications from five or six years ago. The best clubs from that era don’t suddenly become useless half a decade later. They do, however, become MUCH cheaper.
Play An Inexpensive Ball
For most, there is no need to pay $50 for a box of Pro V1 golf balls. For less than $20 you can get a double dozen box of perfectly adequate Nike Mojo balls at your local Target or Walmart. I play the $20 a dozen Wilson Duo. For that price you can also purchase Callaway Warbirds or Hex Diablo, Precept Laddies, Srixon Soft Feel and a wide variety of other, name brand balls.
I would be willing to bet that in a blind test, most golfers would be unable to distinguish between the play of a pro level ball and a lower-priced one. Golfers who are good enough to make the distinction probably aren’t really concerned about price.
Still, if you really want Pro V1s, you can purchase used balls at any number of online shops for less than $30 a dozen.
Skip The Golf Shoes
Golf shoes are not a necessary expense. Any pair of athletic shoes that provide a decent amount of traction will work. Some of the best players I have seen at my local course play in running shoes.
As if to recognize this, in recent years, there has been a trend among golf shoe manufacturers toward “cleatless” golf shoes. All of these have little nubs on the bottom that are virtually indistinguishable from my trail running shoes.
Again, if you are at the point where a pair of shoes specifically designed for golf will save you a couple of strokes — and you care about those strokes — then you’re probably not in the price-discriminating golfer category.
Wear What Is Already In Your Closet
Golf fashion is a big industry, with major manufacturers often charging $70 or more for a single piece of apparel. A $70 golf shirt will not help you play any better than the $20 one you can get at Target or Walmart. The same goes for shorts.
My guess is that most working adults already have all they need in their closet. For men, a polo and a decent pair of shorts are enough. If you’re playing a muni, you might even get away with cut-offs and t-shirts. But ask ahead.
Play Municipal Courses
If you read golf magazines, surf golf websites or watch The Golf Channel, you will very quickly get the idea that playing a round of golf will cost $80, $100 or more. Major golf media report on expensive courses because those are the ones working hard at marketing. Premium and resort courses fly golf writers in to play the course, put them up in fancy hotels, and wine-and-dine them through the weekend.
It is true that these courses generally are a cut above. As a serious player, I appreciate the qualities of a top flight course. Premium courses — and their prices — are not, however, necessary to enjoy the game.
For the vast majority of players, municipal courses are all you’ll ever need. Here in Michigan, my home course is a muni at which I pay around $20 a round to walk. For that, I get a course that has mowed green stuff (not always “grass”) covering all the fairways, smooth greens and some interesting challenges. The clubhouse is basic: it has bathrooms and serves gas station cuisine.
No one will ever mistake it for a resort course. But it’s a lot of fun, friendly and the price is right.
Michigan has an abundance of riches when it comes to golf courses (850+ public courses), so it can be supposed that the laws of law of supply and demand have driven prices to a point not seen in other places.
So I did a little research. In Fairfax County, Virginia — one of the most expensive places to live in the country — you can play a round of golf during the week for $22 at one of their municipal courses. Life isn’t cheap in San Francisco, either but you can play a twilight round at Sharp Park for $24. In Boston, you can play the Donald Ross-designed George Wright course for $39. That’s a little more, but hey … it’s a Donald Ross.
There are similar courses in nearly community.
Discount tee time websites offer another option. I know plenty of people who — having set a particular day aside for a round of golf — wait until late on the night before to log onto a discount tee times site to find the absolute best deal. Whichever course/time is cheapest is the one they play.
The key to all of these is to prioritize. Are you out to have fun, or show off your shiny new sticks and fancy threads? Do you want to play golf, or brag about the courses you’ve played? If your goal is simply to get outdoors with your friends and play some golf, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to do just that.