Can you negotiate green fees with a golf course? The Etiquetteist weighs in

Golfers talk to the pro shop worker at a golf course.

On a slow day at the golf course, can you try to negotiate a lower greens fee for your round? Our expert has the answer.

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Tom from Providence writes: On a slow day at the course, can I try to negotiate a lower green fee? If the time slot is empty, I figure the course would prefer some revenue to none at all.

Dear Tom:

The short answer is, you can try. The slightly longer answer is, you can also try to hit a 6-iron from a bunker from 250 yards to a green fronted by a pond. The Etiquetteist isn’t confident that either attempt will go very well.

Long gone are the days of golf-industry desperation, when struggling courses in over-supplied markets were forced to elaborate lengths to attract more traffic. For one thing, many of those struggling courses are now gone, victims of natural selection. For another, something called the Covid boom occurred. The market has shifted.

And besides, even in that bygone era of over-supply, you would have been hard-pressed to find a pro shop that would have let you haggle over a price, as you might in an outdoor market in Marrakech. As one veteran course-operator told The Etiquetteist, negotiations back then were not unheard of, but they were mostly over annual and lifetime memberships, not daily fees. And clubs are in a stronger position now.

Not that you can’t find deals these days. You could check a tee-time aggregator. You could play at twilight. You could book a stay-and-play package and pay less than rack rate for your golf.

But if anything, when you come across a change in green fees nowadays, that fee is more likely to be moving up than down, as savvy operators employ demand-based pricing. Think of properties like TPC Sawgrass, which in recent years has jacked up rates immediately after the Players Championship, when public interest is at a fever pitch.

As for your local course, by all means, give it a go. From an Etiquette standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with trying to negotiate politely. Just don’t get your hopes up. Instead, The Etiquetteist suggests you change your outlook. It’s true what you say: the course would rather take in revenue than leave a slot on the tee sheet empty. What’s also true is that you’d like to play. Wouldn’t you rather pay full freight than spend the afternoon on the couch?

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