Pinching pennies, tee to green

by Alex Ashe

If you’re anything like me, between last weekend’s Masters telecast and terrific weather, you’ve recently felt an urge to play golf.

Because it’s less physically demanding than any other popular sport, it’s uniquely labeled as a game you can play for nearly your entire life. Despite its relaxed tempo, it’s also very challenging — improvement is a long, ceaseless process. Because you can play it competitively or leisurely, golf doubles as a sport and a hobby. You can play with and against friends or you can play alone against the course. Golf is accessible in the sense that it its rewards strategy as much as it does fast-twitch muscles.

For all of its welcoming aspects, though, a golf hobby can be ridiculously expensive, and in tough economic times, that poses quite the problem.

For the most casual of golfers, even the minimum requirements will set you back. You must first purchase set of clubs, an automatic triple-digit financial commitment for even the shoddiest of equipment. Additionally, you need a bag to hold those clubs, as well as an initial investment in balls and tees, which can eventually be easily scavenged.

But if, heaven forbid, you actually want to improve, golf can be nothing short of a money pit.

The first instinct is to upgrade your equipment, but a reliance on this is foolish. A new set of brand-name clubs typically costs thousands of dollars, but will be of little helpon a poor swing. The same goes for premium golf balls, which cost up to $50 per dozen. Private swing lessons are effective methods of improvement, but typically cost hundreds of dollars per hour and, unless you’re a quick learner with exceptional muscle memory, you’ll likely need multiple lessons before seeing consistent, improved results. Even those are far from guaranteed.

All this money spent and you’re still not even on the course.

Greens fees are a perpetual expense, unless you’re a country club member, in which case, you can probably handle the financial commitment that golf requires. Otherwise, each round will cost you, depending on the quality of course. Many local “value” courses still cost upwards of $30 to play and often feature holes with simple, uninspired designs. To play one of the more acclaimed public courses in the area, prepare to shell out more than $50. On top of greens fees, you’ve got cart fees, which run in excess of $10 and are sometimes mandatory.

Because a steady diet of playing and practicing is the key to improving, the costs can really add up if you’re ambitious.

Thankfully, three local facilities give hope for financial sustenance in golf, each alike in that they are all government-owned and -operated.

Gillespie Golf Course, near downtown Greensboro, is unfairly disregarded by some, but its improved maintenance in recent years make it a terrific value. Apart from its short, simple and forgiving opening hole (which, as an inconsistent golfer, I appreciate), the course features a clever and challenging layout. It’s a nine-hole course at heart, but a set of alternate tee boxes give each hole a back-nine counterpart with a different length, angle or par. Those unconvinced of the back nine’s legitimacy can’t argue with the greens fees, which hover around $10.

Oak Hollow Golf Course, a municipal course in High Point, is a more lauded set of holes designed by world-famous golf architect Pete Dye, the mind behind iconic PGA Tour venues like TPC at Sawgrass and Harbour Town. As with those courses, Dye creatively incorporates water into Oak Hollow’s design. Its sixth hole gorgeously runs along Oak Hollow Lake, beginning with its island tee box, a very unique and scenic feature.

Weekend greens fees are generally fair, but the weekday rate of $17 is an absolute bargain to play a wellmaintained brainchild of a brilliant designer.

When heading downtown on Market Street, Greensboro residents frequently pass the practice golf area at UNCG, but many are likely unaware that: 1) It’s a practice facility, not a course and 2) It’s open to the public at no charge. I might have been unaware of this myself if not for the fact that my dad manages the facility. The practice area consists of five greens and is ideal for practicing shorter shots. The two greens on Market Street each feature a sand trap and are connected by a long fairway that allows for shots of up to about 175 yards. It’s in very good condition, especially for a free facility.

After all, the words “free” and “golf” are otherwise mutually exclusive, as far as I know.