Spring bargains: Golf discounts in Arizona

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE/PHOENIX, Ariz. -- A few words of advice for golfers up north: Get to Arizona now and play; the weather's great and the prices are even better.

Legend Trail Golf Club - hole 6
Prices at Scottsdale courses such as Legend Trail G.C. are lower than they have been in the last 10 years.
Legend Trail Golf Club - hole 6Grayhawk Golf Club's Raptor course in Scottsdale - No. 8
If you go

Conventional wisdom has it that when the snowbirds flock to Arizona, green fees shoot up and the locals stop playing.

This year, winter visitors have arrived, but not in as great of numbers as usual. As a result, although the listed rates at many courses may seem as high as ever, the drizzle of discounts at courses is turning into a storm. The rationale among golf course managers seems to be that if tourism is down - the Arizona Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates a five percent drop - then something has to be done to lure the home folks to play. But tourists can take advantage of many of those specials as well.

"There's no doubt about it," says Lon Grundy, general manager of Legend Trail Golf Club, one of 114 courses managed by Troon Golf of Scottsdale. "Prices are lower right now in Scottsdale for a round of golf than they have been in the last 10 years."

It's not just the tourism situation that's involved in all this, it's also the result of competition. Although Scottsdale likes to bill itself as an Old West kind of a town, there are definitely more golf cars to ride here than horses. The phone book lists about 25 public and private courses inside the city limits with another 25 on the fringes of the town. Some maps list about l75 courses for the Phoenix metropolitan area.

"The most competitive golf market in America right now is in Maricopa County," says Roger Maxwell, who owns a golf-course management company, In Celebration of Golf in Scottsdale. The county includes Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and a number of small cities and suburbs that are loaded with courses.

The peak published rate at the Legacy Golf Club in South Phoenix, operated by In Celebration of Golf, has dropped from $145 in 2001 to $125 now. But at two other courses that Maxwell's firm has spiffed up and partially renovated - Starfire G.C. and Silverado Golf Course in Scottsdale - the prices have stayed about the same.

Golfers can also buy passes that offer discounts, good at all six courses managed by Maxwell's firm. "The price point is extremely attractive," says Maxwell, former vice president of golf for the Marriott Hotels Corp. "The value is there right now."

Among the most dramatic discounts available, Grayhawk in North Scottsdale posts its official rate to play right now at $205 a round plus tax through March at this high-end, daily fee club. But Grayhawk is now running a special price of $95 a round through the end of February for any time of day. The only restriction is that you can't book a tee time more than three days in advance. That means you may find no times available when you call.

Many price changes benefit those who can stay in the area for a few weeks at a time. "A lot of local programs that we offer have not done a lot for tourists," says Grundy of Legend Trail Golf Club in the Cave Creek-Carefree area, referring to plans at many courses in which residents buy cards for $100 or more that allow them to play at big discounts.

But Troon Golf also operates a call center for all its courses that monitors sales of tee times and can drop prices at an individual course 24 hours out, Grundy says. "For folks who want to plan ahead, it's not a benefit. It's sort of a risk-reward system to wait until the last minute to see if we will have a cheaper tee time available.

Troon Golf also has a number of February specials for its Scottsdale courses listed on its Web site including $80 (regularly $130) for playing Monday through Thursday or $100 (regularly $150) for playing Friday through Sunday at Legend Trail. There are some restrictions, including the fact that you have to mention the February special at time of booking and present the website ad at check-in. Similar offers are described on the website for Kierland Golf Club and Whirlwind Golf Club.

At Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa, the peak season rate to play is $160 Fridays through Sundays and $140 during the week. But those who visit Nevada Bob's or Vann's golf shops, can pick up special postcards that allow them to play for less. The only restriction is that you can only make a tee time two days in advance.

"We've made this part of our marketing strategy in response to the way that the economy is right now," says Christian McClain, first assistant golf pro at Las Sendas golf course.

The idea is to entice more year-round residents to play the course - people who usually wait around for lower summer rates. But nothing would stop someone visiting the area from plugging into the plan.

Not all courses are making dramatic plays for players. At Sanctuary Golf Course, operated by SunCor in Scottsdale, there are no special discounts right now. "Everyone seems to be trying to do something that they haven't done in the past," says John Patzwald, director of golf. "But we haven't changed our price structure."

However, for $150, a golfer can buy a special "player's club" card good for 25 percent off during the high season at any of the six SunCor golf courses in Arizona and good for 50 percent off at other times.

Here are suggestions for getting your own good deal.

Book your tee times online.

• If you want to make a tee time before leaving home, fine; but trying for some tee times at the last minute may pay off.

• Do the math and find out if buying a pass can save money.

• Don't be afraid to make a call and find out if that high-end course you have always wanted to visit is looking for players at lower rates.

• As always, Mondays through Thursdays are the most economical times to play.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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