Golf fees on the upswing
The price of a round of golf rose at nearly every public course in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer, but at some courses the price has not reached what it was 15 years ago.Golf course managers said locals have strayed from the public courses, with more than five new semiprivate 18-hole courses in the past 15 years – and more on the drawing board. However, the same managers are upbeat at the prospect of the new courses making Aspen a golf destination. “We’ve become more of a destination golf area,” said Steve Aitken, director of golf for the city of Aspen. “Fifteen years ago it was just Snowmass and Aspen. It’s become more of a place where you can come to Aspen and play three or four different golf courses. People are coming here to play golf, and that never used to be the case.”The public courses in the Roaring Fork Valley have focused on budget golf, though the cheapest round in the valley is $34 (playing back-to-back rounds on a nine-hole par-3 course). It’s only in comparison with the semiprivate courses that the public ones look cheap. A walk-on at the Aspen public course is $90, and local specials cost significantly more this year, partly because construction finished on a $2.6 million renovation. In 2006, the course lowered fees because of construction. This year, rates rose from 2005.
The 2007 season pass is $900, and a 20-play punch pass is $450, both $100 increases from 2006. The Aspen course is not city-subsidized, Aitken said, but neither is it profit-driven in the same way as the private courses. The Snowmass Club, with a public 18-hole course, is significantly more expensive than Aspen, at $175 per round. Up the ante a bit, and you can hit the links at the Maroon Creek Club for $325. It’s a private, nonequity course that opened in 1995. Similarly, the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt is a 1999 private, nonequity course that costs $200 to play. “As we’ve built more courses, demand has gone down at each golf course,” said Zack Ray, general manager of Carbondale’s public River Valley Ranch, where greens fees are $90. “Before I came here, they dropped the rates considerably. When this course opened, it was $90 across the board. No locals rates, no nothing, and that was nine years ago.”Nowadays, locals pay $65 on weekends and $60 on weekdays. Ray said that between 80 and 90 percent of his golfers are local. Many people have paid the higher fees, played the newer courses and come back to the Aspen public course, Aitken said. Plus, he said new water features help bring people back. “Every time you build another golf course, there’s an impact as far as the number of people playing,” Aitken said. “Now that the courses are built and established, we’re seeing people come back to Aspen.”The influx of new courses has not affected Glenwood Springs as much, and fees for the public course there have stayed relatively steady: $37 to walk (the same as last season) and $49.50 for 18 holes with a cart. Locals play for less, with a $440 season pass or 10 rounds of nine for $200.
Still, nothing in the valley compares with the Ranch at the Roaring Fork, a par-3 course in Carbondale. “I like to say we’re the last neighborhood golf course [in the valley],” said Tom Vail, golf operations manager. He said prices, with a $2 increase this year for a round of nine, are just starting to get back to 2003 levels when the Snowmass Club was undergoing renovations and River Valley Ranch was still maturing. However, when rates went up after the influx of players during that time, people stopped playing the par-3 course as much. Zack Ray agreed with Vail that finding the point where people are paying higher fees to pay is crucial. To some degree, it just comes down to supply and demand. “I’d say we lose a small percentage every year to a private course,” Ray said. “When Ironbridge did their renovation. They have a very reasonable membership price, so they’ve pulled people out of the public sector, I guess.” All the managers said running a profitable golf course isn’t the cake job it could seem. The prices reflect the high cost of owning the land, keeping the grass green, mowing the grass and other general upkeep.
“We’re owned by the homeowners association,” Vail said. “Just to meet expenses, the homeowners subsidize the golf operations. For years, there was a debate about whether to have it as a private amenity or as a public course. Now they want it to pay for itself, so I have to walk the line between actual rounds count and the daily fee. If you charge too much, you’re not going to have your rounds.”To some degree costs have to keep going up as the courses deal with the changing prices of petroleum. One of the largest line items for a course is fertilizer, which fluctuates in line with petroleum costs. “There’s no question but that fuel prices have impacted expenditures on our budget,” Aitken said. “We have some equipment that uses a lot less fuel.”Even so, Aitken said, using all electric cars would not eliminate fuel costs entirely because of fertilizer costs. “It’s been tough,” Ray said, “there are a lot of golf courses to choose from.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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