Arizona Green Fees: How to Find Bargains In the High Season

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

Raptor Course at GrayhawkPHOENIX, AZ - The posted rack rate this fall for Grayhawk Golf course is $170 a round through Dec. 25. But if you go online at www.grayhawk.com, three days in advance of when you want to play, you may be able to find a tee time for $75 a player Monday through Thursday or $95 on the weekend.

And Rancho Mañana, the boutique golf course in Cave Creek, ran a coupon in the newspaper the other day offering golfers a $50 discount off green fees with a foursome or $12.50 per person. Last year, the same ad was for a $20 discount for a foursome or $5 a person.

Are those bargains signs of lower green fees ahead in the world of Phoenix golf or are they temporary flukes?

Most course officials we talked to say they expect their green fees to be about the same this fall as last year. But some in the golf course industry are waiting to see how many golfers show up this fall; depending on demand, prices may drop even at top courses.

"Our prices for this winter were set back in January and February with a high season rate of $160 a round," says Marc Orlowski, the head golf professional at Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa. "But in November and December, we will review the numbers and aggressively look at lowering prices."

Two competing factors are at work this fall in the Phoenix area. On one hand, three new resorts are opening - the Westin Kierland in Scottsdale, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler, and the Marriott Desert Ridge in North Phoenix. They could result in lots more golfers arriving in town to see the new places. On the other hand, Phoenix still hasn't recovered fully from last year's downturn in the travel industry.

"I don't think prices can go back to the heights of what they were three, four, five years ago when the big entertainment money was coming into the valley," Orlowski says. "They have to base prices now on what people can pay. I think the $200-plus green fees are over with. But courses can still figure out a way to make money and bring the golfer back again and again."

Orlowski also says that golfers should recognize that if they can visit the Valley of the Sun before November and after March, they will find much better values.

Mark Bakeman, the director of golf at Raven at South Mountain in south Phoenix, says that his in-season rack rates are pretty much the same as last year - maybe a dollar or two less: $139 during the week and $169 on weekends. "We wouldn't change the rack rates necessarily," he says. "But depending on how business goes, we might do special promotions to various data bases that we have."

The new Wild Horse Pass resort is south of Phoenix and could possibly draw golfers to South Mountain area courses like the Raven. "But on the other hand, they have 36 holes of golf at that resort," Bakeman says. "So it's sort of a double-edged sword. They'll bring more people in, but will they drive up to Phoenix to play here? We like to think we have a strong name."

One place to look for bargains, Bakeman says, is Tucson, an area that he says is "definitely overbuilt" on courses. "Tucson will be more aggressive on pricing," he says.

Dennis Farrell, the director of guest services at Resort Suites of Scottsdale which books golf packages for its guests, says that it's basically a wash right now on pricing. "What I've seen is some of the prices are up a little bit and some came down. A few of the Troon Golf-managed courses are knocking off $5 to $10 in order to attract the golfer back onto the course."

One firm that always has its eye on the price is In Celebration of Golf, which manages several well-run, moderate-priced courses in Phoenix. David DiFilippo, director of sales and marketing for the company, says his firm is committed to providing "quality golf at affordable prices. Of the seven courses we manage, only the Legacy (in South Phoenix) has a high season rate over $100 and that's $140." Green fees at all the other courses managed by the firm are under $100.

The firm's aim is to "dispel the myth that local people can't afford winter golf" and has priced its rates accordingly. He says the firm will not increase rates from last year.

Although its rates are the same as last year, In Celebration offers many discount coupons that can be found at local golf stores and driving ranges and with concierges at motels and hotels. Tourists as well as local people can take advantage of these offers. For example, one coupon we saw offered a 20 percent discount on green fees at any of the firm's facilities until Dec. 31. Besides the Legacy, In Celebration manages Starfire at the Scottsdale Country Club, Scottsdale Silverado, Arizona Traditions in Surprise, Bear Creek in Chandler and Johnson Ranch in Queen Creek.

Checking the Internet can also be a good idea for finding bargains. For example, the Golf Club at Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills has fall green fees of $105 to $135, about the same as last year. But a discount section on the course Web site, www.eaglemtn.com, offers bargains from 20 percent to 30 percent less on selected times.

Rachel Williamson, the marketing director for Troon Golf, the mega-sized course management firm based in Scottsdale, which runs such Phoenix area courses as Legend Trail, Talking Stick and Troon North, says that her firm sees green fees in Scottsdale as remaining pretty consistent this year with no major discounts or increases coming up. However, she adds, "Golf courses will offer strategic discounts at times when demand is low."

She also suggests that golfers check the firm's Web site for specials: www.troongolf.com. "Where courses know they will have some down time, there are definitely value-added offers to be had," she says.

Courses that are next to resorts - like Kierland next to the Westin Kierland, a course managed by Troon - are expecting heavy demand for tee times. "It's difficult to foresee what will happen because of the resorts," Williamson says, "but the historical pattern is that new resorts increase demand."

Winter visitors should stay in contact with courses via the Internet, she suggests, and should try to be flexible about when they play. Monday through Thursday golf can be significantly cheaper than weekends. "A weekend in Scottsdale," she says. "Now that might be challenging."

Don't expect any price breaks at the top Troon course Troon North, the North Scottsdale course with one of the biggest reputations in the country. Last year, Farrell of Resort Suites says the course charged $240 for a round any day of the week. This year, the Monday through Thursday price will be $240 and Friday through Sunday it's going up to $275. And you can tack your tax on top of that.

Weekends are always busy at Troon, Farrell says. "It's a great experience to play at Troon North," he says. "It's like playing Pebble Beach. Both of the courses at Troon are great courses. But are they a great value? I don't know. It depends on what your definition of a value is."

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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