Once A Week Golfer is one of us, you, whomever. He plays golf at public tracks, has a home course and loves the game. He will contribute his thoughts on this great sport from time to time.

A few years ago I thought a course finally got it. A pass/membership that was perfect for me. But it didn’t last.

Before we get into that, let me introduce myself, I am a bogey golfer, playing regularly for more than a couple of decades. I have a current handicap of 17.7, (that’s my actual handicap, no sandbagging for me). I walk and carry my bag, and will continue to do so as long as I am physically capable. Pull cart will be next, riding is the last resort. I fix my ball marks, replace my divots, rake before I leave a trap, pick up broken tees and trash on the course. I dress properly, even when playing a course with a very loose dress code. I’ll play any set of tees, and my clubs are always in the trunk, ready to go. I have played most of the public courses within a few hours drive, and a few private clubs. I have traveled a bit also, twice played Mid Ocean, Port Royal 2 times, the Golden Horseshoe many times, a whole bunch of courses in Charleston, Myrtle, and Hilton Head. I have played Angus Glen, Peninsula Lakes, the Legends, Whirlpool, Hunter’s Pointe, (or whatever they call it, great course, but terrible at names), Bethpage Black, the Concord Monster, Links at Hiawatha, En-Joie, Conklin Players Club…OK I think you get the idea.

I usually play during the week, because weekends are for other things. I can’t even remember the last time I played a weekend morning. I work 3rd shift now, so a typical round is on the way home from work, before 7:30 am. If and when I work 1st shift, I also play on the way home, 3:30. Any course within reasonable distance is in play. Even though I live in the Southtowns, I expect that there are others like me who live north and east.

Smart people like you will recognize that 3rd shift also identifies me as a blue collar worker, a skilled tradesman. I may be a machinist, or work for Dunlop, General Mills, Ford or GM. I might work in a hospital, run a printing press, or be a cop or fireman. In other words, I don’t have an expense account, or a corporate membership, or deep pockets. No one pays for my golf but me, out of my hourly wage.

Don’t think I am cheap though. Re-read the courses I have played, more than a few have healthy triple digit greens fees. I love to play great courses. As Ferris Bueller said, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.” But for my regular game, my weekly 18, I’m just looking for a fun round that doesn’t get bogged down, fair test of golf for a fair price. Sadly, many courses seem to think that we are looking for a once in a lifetime experience every day. That’s great if you can afford it, but for a blue collar golfer?

I never have any trouble getting out, even the most heavily played public courses. I usually don’t even need a tee time. When I play, the courses are not that busy. This year, with 1 exception, I was walking down the first fairway within 5 minutes of pulling in the parking lot. From what I see, most local courses are underutilized. To me, this is a key factor, because I hear over and over how courses are struggling financially. Clubs with reduced, deferred, or no initiation fee, advertising, almost begging for members. It’s no secret that EA, OP, and others have lost members to public courses like Diamond Hawk and Harvest Hill.

Yes, I know that the cost of golf in WNY is reasonable, much less costly than many other parts of the country. I would love to join a club or buy a pass at a local course. I have seriously considered Springville CC, East Aurora CC, Westwood, Diamond Hawk, Harvest Hill, and a few others.

So what’s my problem, why don’t I join? I think it’s for the same reason I don’t play the lottery: my math skills are too good. And I am not talking about my scorecard. You see, I play once a week, 4 times a month, 5 to 6 months a year, 20-25 times a year, at what I would like to be my “home course.” I would love to play more, but it’s not going to happen while I hold down a full time job. So while the places to play in WNY are a relative bargain, for the number of times I play, the price of a season pass or membership just doesn’t make sense.

That’s why I was thrilled a couple of years ago when a newer public course offered a weekday mornings only pass for $400. Someone finally got it! As soon as I heard about it, I drove straight there and put my money down. I thought I finally found my home course. I loved everything about it, even lowered my handicap.

But it only lasted a year, carts became mandatory and the cart fee was added to an increased price for the pass, so it went from $400 to $1000, and now it’s even more. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great price for a great course, but not for a once a week player! (I won’t even mention that it is one of the best courses around for walking, making carts mandatory is an obvious and desperate move to stay viable.)

Sure, I understand the finances of a new course versus an established course, a municipal versus privately owned, and the rising cost of everything. I don’t want any of our local courses to go under. I hope they sell every one of their passes.

But that course still lost me. I took my golf money elsewhere.

Still, this got me to thinking and looking for a club or course that wanted my 20 rounds a year, my regular 18 golf dollars. You would think there would be more than a few.

Now, I am not a business major, but I can add. If you need to increase revenue, which many local courses and clubs seem to need to do, some desperately, you can raise your rates and get more money out of the same pockets, or you can attract more customers.

Why not offer an incentive for the golfer who comes once or occasionally to come more often? Personally, I’d rather be a regular at one main course and turn in my scores. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “Sorry if you can’t afford it, but courses have expenses to meet and they can’t give it away.”

If you are a private club with a waiting list to join, good for you! And some public courses get all the play they want. I’m not jealous and don’t have a problem with other’s success. I’m comfortable with who I am and what I do.

Still, I think about the restaurant owners who wish they had another hundred tables for Friday night, but struggle to fill what they have on mid-week days. Is it like that for golf courses too? Booked solid on weekend mornings, but kind of quiet too often the rest of the week?

Why not offer 1/2 memberships? Or 1/3? Or 1/4? I’m no CFO, but I do know that 1/2 + 1/2 = 1. What about 20 pack? There’s nothing wrong with limiting the number of rounds that can be played with a partial membership. Also restrict the times that limited members can play; before 8 am, no weekend mornings, whatever. Hey, if the airlines can reward their frequent flyers by letting them sit in unused seats, why not fill a few open tee times with limited members? I also don’t mind eating and having a couple of drinks in the clubhouse. I won’t be like those guys in Caddyshack that Judge Smails had to ask: “Don’t you have homes?” If I want to play a few more times than we agreed on, I’ll gladly pay the going rate, but wouldn’t it be great if a few bucks off gets knocked off the daily rate? What if I want to bring a friend? Could he play by paying a set rate? If I need a weekend spot, I’d be happy to pay a reasonable surcharge.

I guess my question is this: does the golf course need more customers?

Frankly, if it’s not attractive or too restrictive, why would I do it? Earlier, I mentioned fair golf for a fair price. Some might only be thinking about what they need to charge to cover their nut. But if there are openings, why not bring in a few more customers?

I’m not looking for a free ride, just a regular 18 at market prices. Because isn’t it also about what other courses are charging? Is it worth it compared to what else is out there? Isn’t that why some private clubs are losing members to public courses that offer a yearly pass for 1/2 the price.

So, why did that course lose me? I can play a great municipal golf course for $25. My regular 20 rounds will cost $500. My handicap comes courtesy of the USGA thru their E-Club for $35. If the season pass costs the more than 20-25 daily greens fees, the sensible thing for me to do is buy a day at a time. So far this year, I have played 12 rounds at the muny. At my current pace, even the non-resident pass for $675 only becomes a maybe.

To me it’s a little shocking that I can buy 20 daily rounds individually for less than in a package. I’d rather buy the package, and you would think that most golf courses would be happy to sell one to golfers like me.

The muny is happy to have my $500 and I am happy to give it to them. You can do the math of what 25 or 50 customers like me times $500 is and whether you could use that revenue by putting golfers on your course when it’s not especially busy anyway. The nice thing is I do have options, there are other places to play that offer similar rates. I’ll go where the costs are right, and they take care of the course and grounds. I’ll still be teeing it up at somewhere. But for now, the way this Buffalo Golfer sees it, the leader in the clubhouse is pretty clear.