How To Play Golf For Less - Top Tips To Save Money On Green Fees
With the cost of living rising markedly, we look at how you can save money on green fees to keep playing more of the game you love
Despite some non-golfers still believing that golf is only a sport for the well-off, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be, of course, and just as with all the best things in life, the very best golf courses cost the most, especially when they sit the comfortable side of the supply and demand equation. This means that many, though not all, of the courses in the current Golf Monthly Top 100 rankings will be expensive – perhaps too expensive for many. But there are ways to enjoy the experience for less for those able or prepared to be flexible over timings (e.g., low-season rates, shoulder season rates, twilight rates), and there are also probably more places - and ways - to play golf relatively cheaply now than ever before.
As we all know, the cost of living is going up, most significantly in the UK via huge increases in our energy bills. This, and rising prices elsewhere, means many will be having to cut costs somewhere to balance the family books. Factor in that many golf clubs increased both green fees and membership fees following golf’s well-documented membership boom during the pandemic, and finding ways to keep playing as economically as possible is becoming ever harder.
Harder, but not impossible, for there are still several ways to keep playing for less (including some of the very best courses) if you’re prepared to be a little more flexible, or in some instances, fortunate enough to live in the right parts of the country…
Shoulder- and low-season rates at top courses
Let’s start at the top with some of our very best courses that many golfers want to experience at least occasionally. With some of the best golf courses in Scotland and best golf courses in England costing north of £250 a round, cost can be prohibitive
But if you’re prepared to play out of season, the savings can be considerable. Many will offer reduced rates for winter play, and an increasing number also now offer a shoulder season rate for the months immediately either side of the peak playing season
While off-season golf may not appeal to all, you can strike lucky on the weather front - many golfers will even have enjoyed the occasional shirtsleeve round in early March or early November. Okay, the courses won’t be in peak summer condition, but links courses make up over 60% of our current Top 100 and that means drier conditions underfoot than at most inland courses off-season, and, on a fine day, a thoroughly enjoyable golfing experience at a great price, especially as the rough is likely to be far less punishing too.
If you wanted to play the Championship Links at Royal County Down – our no.1 ranked course – it would cost you £290 in the summer. In April it’s £160, March £110 and from November to February just £90 – nearly a 70% reduction. At Muirfield it’s just £125 from November to March but £310 this summer. At the time of writing, you could play the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor, one of the best golf courses in Wales, in February 2022 from as little as £48 or £82 in March against a peak-season rate starting at £169.
Away from the Top 100, most other courses also now offer reduced winter rates. A word of warning, though – certain top championship links may require you to play from fairway mats during winter, so if that doesn’t appeal, make sure you find out before you book.
Just as playing outside peak season can bring savings, so too can playing later in the day. It seems that late-in-the-day tee times are less appealing to many club members, creating capacity that golf clubs are keen to fill even if they have to lower the price. At most clubs, the first twilight times will still comfortably allow you to get a full round in, and playing as the sun descends can be a fantastic experience, especially on one of our links courses where the shadows give the course incredible definition in the twilight. The savings can again be significant for those who can be flexible with the time they play.
A couple of examples, one from our top 100 and then another club a little further down the pecking order: Ferndown’s Championship course in Dorset will set you back just £70 after 3.30pm midweek compared to the full rate of £140, while at North Wilts GC the full midweek green fee is £50 but you can play for just £20 after 5.30pm in the height of the summer when there's still plenty of time to get round.
If you were able and willing to only ever play your golf during twilight hours, you could almost certainly save 50% on your green fees throughout the year!
The more the merrier
There is an increasing trend among clubs to offer lower per person green fees depending on the number playing – so rates for three-balls and four-balls will be less per person than for a two-ball or a single. So, a good way to save a few bob might simply be to find more people to play with – more company, more fun and more to spend on post-round drinks. This is a win-win scenario for both golfers and golf clubs – a tee time is a tee time regardless of how many are playing, and it is financially more beneficial for clubs to have three or four people paying a discounted rate than one person paying the full rate.
At High Post Golf Club in Wiltshire, it’s £45pp for a two-ball, £40pp for a three-ball and £35pp for a four-ball. And Nairn Golf Club in Scotland, another Top 100 links, is continuing its discounted afternoon tee-time rate of £380 for UK residents or members of UK golf clubs this summer, so potentially as low as £95pp if you can get four of you together compared to the full summer rate of £190pp.
If you are a full playing member of a club in certain parts of the UK you will be able to acquire a county card for either a nominal amount (e.g., certain English counties) or sometimes even free as part of your county affiliation fees (Glamorganshire, Kent, Surrey and Gloucestershire are among the counties to offer this).
In England at least, ‘county card’ may actually now be a bit of misnomer for the scheme runs almost nationwide with county cards being accepted at a vast number of clubs in 32 English counties. However, it’s worth noting that some clubs will charge different rates depending on which county you’re from, with the biggest discounts usually for the closest counties. For example, East Devon Golf Club offers the biggest discounts to members of clubs in Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Cornwall, while Keswick Golf Club offers 50 per cent off the day rate for members of other Cumbrian clubs but only 25% per cent off for members of clubs in other counties. It can be a bit of a movable feast, so always check thoroughly before you book!
In Wales, the scheme seems to still be largely county- or region-based, but either way cardholders can enjoy often significantly discounted green fees at a number of clubs, including those closest to home where they are perhaps most likely to be looking to play the occasional ‘away’ round. If you’re a member of a golf club and haven’t yet got a county card, maybe 2022 is the time to sign up for yours to potentially reap significant savings.
Again, one for club members – do you know what reciprocal arrangements are available to you as part of your membership benefits? A number of clubs have reciprocal arrangements either with certain local clubs, clubs of a similar standard or clubs that form part of some broader network – perhaps other James Braid clubs or clubs founded in the same year. Visits to those clubs will be either at a discounted rate or sometimes even completely free of charge, but conditions and restrictions may apply, for example a limit on the number of such visitors per week or a limit on the number of times you can play each club (typically only once).
Could there be incredible deals to be had simply through you being a member of a certain club? If you’re not sure, make it your business to find out. It could be eye-opening and could allow you to plan out your year’s golf based around the best options available to you.
For example, Llanishen Golf Club near Cardiff is part of a group called the Welsh Golf Network, which entitles members to one free round a year at eight other Welsh clubs – Borth & Ynyslas, Carmarthen, Clyne, Cradoc, Llandrindod Wells, Morriston, Wenvoe Castle and Woodlake Park. Some of those lie reasonably close by.
Llanishen is also part of the 1905 Club for golf clubs founded that year, entitling members to one free round a year at most of the other 31 other clubs involved, spread across Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland, members of clubs in the Deeside Golf League can play at ten other Deeside clubs, including beautiful Ballater, for a flat fee of £20 (over 50% off in that specific example). Piltdown, close to my home, has reciprocals with Littlestone and Sherwood Forest allowing its members to play at members’ guest rates on visits to those two clubs. Could your club potentially have such schemes and arrangements that you don’t know about?
This is perhaps more common in Scotland, but club members living in a certain area can sometimes benefit from discounted rates for locals. The fabulous new links at Dumbarnie continues to offer Fife residents a rate of £99 this summer against a full rate of £270, while any Scottish resident can play for less than half the full rate at £129.
Similarly, members of Scottish Golf clubs can enjoy pretty much half-price golf at Top 100 course, Castle Stuart - £90 instead of £185 in April and November, £125 instead of £245 in the main playing season.
But it’s not limited to Scotland. For example, residents of Merton in Surrey who are not already a member of a golf club can enjoy less than half-price golf at Golf Monthly Next 100 course, Royal Wimbledon, any time on Mondays and after 3pm from Tuesday to Thursday until the end of March 2022 - £40 versus £82.50.
If you want to make a day of it, there are some great deals to be had with second rounds available at vastly reduced rates at a huge number of clubs. Staying with Royal Wimbledon, from Monday to Thursday until the end of March 2022, that full winter fee of £82.50 remains unchanged whether you want to play 18 or 36 holes.
At the beautiful hilltop course of Broadway in Worcestershire it’s a mere £11 extra to play 36 instead of 18 on weekdays (£53 instead of £42), while at Seascale’s fine links in Cumbria (also a member of the 1893 Club offering courtesy rounds at over 32 other clubs) it’s a mere £5 extra to make a day of it any day.
GolfNow Hot Deals
The tee-booking website says that some of its Hot Deals prices on very specific tee-times offer as much as an 80% discount (especially for last-minute bookings). You will need to check things out for yourself in your local area (or where you’re looking to play) and be flexible over timings, but as an example, the author had the following options available for the day after writing within 20 miles of home: Lingfield Park - £12.99 (full rate £25-£30); Gatton Manor - £16.99 (full rate £30); North Downs - £17 (full rate £30).
Finally, if you’re up for a bit of competition, then entering an open event at another club can be a hugely cost-effective way of enjoying a day out, especially if you’re up for 36 holes. The number of such two-round, same-day events has diminished over the years but they are still out there. For example, the Challenge Cup at Highwoods Golf Club in Sussex where 36 holes plus bacon roll on arrival and two-course lunch (plus prizes!) on a Thursday will set you back £50 - that's £10 less than the standard weekday 18-hole green fee.
There are scores more options if a mere 18 holes is more your thing. Royal Porthcawl, Wales’ top-ranked course, stages eight open days a year. All include a two-course meal and prizes, with some also providing coffee and bacon roll before you play. For example, the spring open is priced at £85pp, the women’s open at £55pp and the mixed open at £60pp, all considerably less than the full standard green fee of £175. Wherever you live in the country, you’ll find open competitions offering cracking value,
All prices correct at the time of publication
Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
Jeremy is currently playing...
Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft
3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft
Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft
Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)
Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response
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