The Economics of Charity Golf Outings

Carts At Golf Outing

Golf Outings are a major form of fund raising here in southeastern Michigan.  I personally get invited to eight or ten a year, and read about—or hear about—many dozens more. Golf Outings are used to fund everything from major charities such as Leukemia societies, to school sports teams, to church groups, to helping to pay medical bills for individual needy families.

The typical charity outing features 100 golfers in shotgun start. All of the outings I’ve played were held on a public course on a Saturday morning. The more high-end outings might be staged at a private club on a Monday—the day many clubs are closed to members (my club has one lined up every Monday throughout the season).

Golf outing formats generally are the same: a shotgun start with four man teams playing a scramble. With 25 groups, the par fives and longer par 4s will start two groups on each. That makes the first few holes slow, but my experience is that it spaces itself out after a while. And if players have to wait, it’s generally not an issue. Everyone knows the round is going to take five hours and they’re just enjoying the company of their foursome.

In addition to golf, outings have food, raffles, skins (low scores on specific holes) and prizes for the low scoring teams. There also will be prizes for longest drives (and sometimes shortest), closest to the pin on a par three and other categories. Sometimes there’s a big prize for a hole in one on a specific par three.

Most of the golf outings I’ve attended also give out a “goodie bag” to each participant. These typically have a few tees, a sleeve of balls, perhaps a golf towel, some coupons to local businesses, and a few other trinkets.

Played with the right foursome, these generally are a lot of fun.

But after playing in yet another charity golf outing this past weekend, I began to wonder about just how profitable these events are for the sponsoring charities. So I talked to a couple of people who have run such events and did a little math.

The minor league golf outings that I play typically have a registration fee of $80 (I’ve paid both more and less). I’ve also seen advertisements for outings that run as much as $1,000 a participant—generally on an exclusive course, or with a big name participant (such as a PGA pro, or local celebrities)

But those are way out of my league. At the $80 level, a hundred players (a typical number) will bring in $8,000 in registration fees—a tidy sum.

In addition to collecting registration fees, outings sell hole sponsorships to local businesses. Generally, for $100, a business can have a sign near the hole.  Eighteen holes, $1,800. Ads sometimes also are sold in outing programs.

Clever charities have also developed other ways of separating outing participants from their money.

A big one is the fifty-fifty raffle: the charity sells tickets (typically $1 each) and the raffle winner gets half the pot (thus, the fifty-fifty). These do brisk business. There’s always a table set up selling the tickets in the clubhouse, as well as a couple of girls motoring around in a golf cart from hole to hole with a five gallon bucket full of tickets and cash. I’ve never seen a fifty-fifty raffle pay less than $200, and have seen it go for more than $1,000. That means the charity is taking in a matching amount.

A variant has the winners pot split into three portions, with one player getting 50% of the winner’s portion, and two others getting 25%.

Another neat trick is the sale of mulligans. For $5 or so, a player can purchase a mulligan to use at one point during the event. Since there’s money on the line with the lowest overall score and skins, everyone buys at least one mulligan. I’ve seen guys buy a dozen. So that’s another $500 at the very least.

At long, difficult par threes, outings sometimes place a betting table. For a $10 bet you can double your money if you can hit the green. One outing had a local pro at the tee on a short par 4. For $10, he would hit your tee shot for you onto the green. If he missed, you didn’t pay.

I’ve also seen some rather salacious fundraising tactics that I won’t discuss here because it’s a family blog.

A missed opportunity: I’ve never seen a group provide bag boys and girls. Having teens (especially with school sports team outings) ready to clean clubs and carry bags to and from the cars could generate some good tip money for the charity.

With all of these activities, its not unlikely for a “minor league” golf outing to generate a gross in excess of $10,000. I don’t even want to think about what those thousand dollar events will bring in.

From that total, the outing has some expenses.

First are the greens fees. If the charity is paying full price for the tee times the hundred players could run $4,000 at a decent course ($40 a player). If they’re lucky, or choose a cheaper course, the cost could be much lower. Before Memorial Day, or after Labor Day, the greens fees will also be much lower. I’ve attended two outings where the course had donated the tee times. I participated in another held on a cow pasture where the weekend rate for walk-ons was just $18, so I have to assume that the charity was keeping more of the registration fee.

Most of the outings I attend award $500 to $1,000 in cash prizes for low scores, skins, closest to the pin and so on. Merchandise prizes generally have been donated by local businesses or individuals (I’ve donated stuff I got for review at Golfblogger, for example).

The goodie bag probably doesn’t cost more than $5 a player (if it costs anything—much of that is donated). Most of the outings offer a hot dog, chips and a drink for every player at the turn—that probably totals $500 for the field. Some offer a free beer, which is a little more expensive. Giveaways then, could cost up to $1,000.

Sponsors signs likely cost $5 – $6 each, for a total of around $100.

Advertising costs for such events seem to be largely confined to fliers. I’d be willing to bet most are done at the expense of someone’s workplace budget, but if an outing actually paid for copies, they could get a thousand fliers for $30. If an outing advertises in the local paper, that could add another $500 in expenses.

I’m sure I’m missing some expenses, but in the end, the net on a golf outing could be as high as $5,000 to $6,000.

And that’s not bad for a single day event. It certainly beats having an army of kids going door to door trying to sell crap that nobody wants.

Outings are a good deal for courses, too.  An outing generally will tie up a course for five hours, but bring in 100 greens fees. To match that with regular play, the course would have to have a new foursome paying full price going off the first tee once every 12 minutes during that five hour spread. With all of the places to play in Michigan, that’s an unlikely scenario. It’s an especially unlikely scenario in the spring and fall months.

The courses also stand to profit from over-the-top beer sales. At every outing I’ve played (but one), the drinking starts early and continues in a steady fashion. The cart girls are out in force.

As much as I discovering that an outing is scheduled when I want to play a round at my favorite course, the economics make perfect sense.

2 thoughts on “The Economics of Charity Golf Outings”

  1. I, too, am a veteran of charity golf outings.  At this point in my life, I typically pass on the opportunity to participate.  If it is a local charity, I will write a check as a donation, just don’t ask me to play.

    5-6 hours inching around a golf course is too much time, even for a golf-related activity.  The format is almost always the same, a 4-man scramble, with minor variations.

    I find the standard scramble format boring.  Organizers need to take a page out of actor Jeff Daniels book.  When he ran a golf outing, it was a memorable event.

  2. Just a note that hole sponsorship signs run $15 for basic 20×20 squares and go up from there for the more ‘fancy’ golf shaped ones with special coloring or lettering.


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