Is Golf Just for The Rich?

Los Cabos Cape Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photo

Peering out the window on a snowy February day when I really should be out skiing or snowshoeing, I’m daydreaming about golf. It seems a good time to ponder why fewer people are taking up golf and why golf courses continue to charge ridiculous green fees.

It’s true that among Canadians participation rates in golf are quite strong and not in the sharp decline experienced in United States and some other markets such as the United Kingdom. However, it seems to me that worldwide the golf industry is failing to take the appropriate measures to ensure the long-term health of the sport.

When my memories of our pre-Christmas trip to Mexico drift to our golf experiences there, my joyful recollection of the sun on my skin, that sound when the club face makes clean contact or the ball drops in the hole, and the refreshing first gulp of the day’s first beer is grated by some of the unfortunate realities. Golf in Mexico is suffering because of the short-sightedness of the operators there.

Los Cabos Golf Club Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photoLos Cabos Golf Club flora Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photo

Here’s my reality: I love golf. I love travel. I love food and wine. I love other recreational pursuits. I have a limited budget. Oh, yes, and I resent being gouged in pursuit of those passions. I am Canadian and polite. So, if you rip me off, I may just quietly walk away without too much fuss. In the long run, you will lose. That loss may not seem significant at first. Like the first breaker that takes a bite out of the sea wall, the consequences are benign until the storm crashes wave after wave into the same fracture.

Los Cabos Golf Resort

We have a golf timeshare at the Los Cabos Golf Resort. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And it would have been great had the promises made verbally actually made it into the written contract. Life lesson learned: Read the fine print. Then have an independent lawyer interpret it for you before you sign. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t that great. If the deal is only good that day, resist at all costs!

Los Cabos Golf Resort Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photo

Los Cabos is a gorgeous area, the resort itself well appointed and comfortable, and the golf course a pretty good track with a great practice facility. As a woman, I feel secure there to the extent that one year when Mark’s health prevented him from playing as much golf, I happily played alone. Where the Los Cabos Golf Resort falls off the rails is through the operator’s greed. We purchased this timeshare because it included unlimited golf for our stay. The factors we did not foresee was an unreasonable spike in annual maintenance fees and the increase in cart fees. The airlines, too, have tacked on extra fees so it costs more to haul our golf clubs. Instead of mitigating that aggravation by offering inexpensive club rentals, the golf courses have gone the opposite route and tried to capitalize on that as well.

Los Cabos Golf Club 18th Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photo

When we get together with other golfers and compare notes on ultimate golf experiences, whether we’re discussing our favourite golf course layouts, prettiest scenery, best bang for the buck, exceptional food and beverage services, most interesting pro shop or friendliest staff, it doesn’t make the list. And that’s a shame because the course is picturesque and has a lot of great attributes and the people are rather charming when you can keep in mind not to shoot the messenger.

Not alone

Somewhere along the way since our first visit to the Los Cabos area when the only course was an inexpensive municipal one in San Jose del Cabo, Mexican tourism has made a conscious decision to go for premium pricing. You can no longer find regular green fees set at a fair rate. Even that original San Jose course has passed through many hands and is priced outrageously for the value. If you search, you can find special deals through online booking services. Or if you are willing to sacrifice about as much time as playing the round itself by being trapped in the vortex of a timeshare presentation, you can play for “free” or dramatically reduced rates.

That’s why it’s rare to see the tee boxes back up in Mexico. It seems that golf operators would rather leave money on the table and risk economic crises for the course than just set a reasonable rate at the outset. I don’t get it. If I designed something unique and beautiful, I’d want people to play it.

Cabo Del Sol Golf Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photo

Not only would I want tourists to enjoy a round or two, I would want my citizens to play it. If the pricing has climbed out of reach for the average vacationer, what are the chances of the working class Mexican getting to golf? With all due respect to the highly successful businessman (and by participation statistics, the gender implication is deliberate), it would enhance my vacation to golf occasionally with some locals.

Greed on the Green throughout Mexico

Lest it be discounted as part of the Americanization of Cabo, the same holds true across Mexico. In this recent trip we were thrilled to return to Loreto after an absence of more than 20 years. We were particularly keen to get back to the Loreto Bay Golf Club, which had been redesigned by David Duval since we had last played it. Previously it had been a pretty weak course with one truly memorable hole over the water.

The development at Loreto Bay is an interesting story on to itself. It launched with great aspirations of an earth-friendly village many years ago and has suffered a few stutters along the way. There has been an adjustment of the loftier targets and a vibrant community is emerging. Best practices in terms of serving its owners and visitors remains a work in progress.

Villages of Loreto Bay overview Mark photo

Inn at Loreto Bay Mexico RBuchanan photo

Loreto Bay patio view Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photo

Loreto Bay Golf view Gigantas Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photo

We rented a lovely unit owned by Canadian friends and were again captivated by the beauty of the area. The amenities offered in their unit were excellent and plenty to keep active souls occupied. We wanted, however, to explore further afield and give the local concierge a test drive. He was a friendly and fine young man although a novice in his understanding of getting guests the best bargain. We had already checked out green fees at the pro shop and when we quizzed him on a deal, it took some negotiation for him to secure a better rate.

Loreto Bay Golf home hole Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photo

We discovered that Duval Designs had, in fact, made some great improvements enhancing that memorable hole and adding a few more exciting challenges on the back nine. The front nine was a weak track making the green fees a poor value compared to almost any of the courses we routinely play in Canada. It offered valid explanation why the course was never busy. And like all the other Mexican courses we have encountered, the same strange stubborn policy to inflate rates to the point that the grounds keeping is celebrated by an elite few.

Loreto Bay Golf overview to bridge Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photoLoreto Bay Golf hole with bridge Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photoLoreto Bay Golf signature hole with Mark RBuchanan photoLoreto Bay Golf signature hole with Roz MarkphotoLoreto Bay Golf overview to signature Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photoLoreto Bay Golf gallery Loreto Mexico RBuchanan photo

We learned that folks in Loreto perceive the owners and visitors at Loreto Bay to be extremely wealthy. That attitude explained the inflated green fees and the fact the ATV rental through the resort’s concierge was more than double the rate we could negotiate in town for a better machine.

Vive Loreto ATV rental from Loreto Bay with Mark RBuchanan photoLa Mision Hotel Loreto ATV rental  with Mark RBuchanan photo

An Economist might disagree

To me – no, make that to us and our friends – it makes sense to set green fees at an approachable level. If the value to price ratio is realistic, we’ll return again and again instead of viewing the activity as a one time splurge. In the end, the golf course will actually earn more of our money and we’ll both be happy. In passing by a golf course empty of players, I think for a moment it’d be a good time to play and then quickly the question pops in what’s wrong with the course? Joy is contagious. Where is all the joy?

In viral marketing, you try to increase brand awareness and product sales using social media as a network replicating word-of-mouth endorsements. If no one is playing, what’s viral in that?

Los Cabos Golf Club impossible lie Cabo Mexico RBuchanan photo

Is this the future for golf in Mexico?

About rozsmallfry

Live. Learn. Write. I’m the behind the lenses, author of the words kind of person. In classic drama or opera or the Robertson Davies’ book of the same title, I’d be the player called Fifth Business. Fifth Business is neither heroine nor villain yet instrumental in making the plot happen. I’d far rather learn about you than talk about myself and building relationships is at the core of who I am. The more I learn, the more I realize I have lots to learn. When I was a child one of my nicknames was Small Fry. Now I understand. I really am a small fry in a great big world of learning.
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11 Responses to Is Golf Just for The Rich?

  1. Weslie says:

    You love golf AND Mexico? Ok, you need to check out the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa del Carmen, right near Cancun. Tickets are only $10 a day and it’s a great way to see some of the most beautiful vistas Mexico has to offer. http://bit.ly/yXO4uq

  2. Eric says:

    I live in Loreto for most of the winter to escape the Canadian winters. I disagree with the comment that it is viewed as a place for the rich. Golf here is $240 US per month and yes the course needs some work but try and play golf in Canada for that price. This price is available to all who what to play whether a resident or a visitor.
    I have paid much more to play courses in Arizona and Palm Springs that were no better then the loreto course.
    The main reason for lack of play is that Loreto is a hard place to get to. We only have 5 flights per week on a 70 passenger plane and it is always full. Until we get more flights everything in Loreto will be underutilized.
    I find loreto a very inexpensive and beautiful place that one day will be much busier when the word gets out. We hope it never gets as busy as Cabo.
    It was unfortunate you do not feel the same way.

    • rozsmallfry says:

      Oh, you misunderstood my comments. I totally love Loreto.
      I just find the golf expensive for the value. Loreto offers some great and memorable holes — it’s just not a strong and well-maintained track overall.
      I think golf should be more in reach of the average person’s budget including the locals who live in Loreto year round. In Canada, I can find all sorts of great golf courses for less expensive despite the greater challenges in developing and maintaining them in this climate and labour costs. One can always find more expensive examples. I’m talking about ones of comparable playing experience. In Alberta, there are wonderful rural golf courses with great family rates in contrast to the many inflated high-end courses in Calgary and some other cities. In British Columbia, it is the same, you can find prices all over the map. However, you can also find truly amazing value such as the nine-hole Skaha Meadows course which is open almost year round and offers an annual unlimited membership for $1,200 as well as a winter pass for about 4-5 months at $250! Most courses in Canada offer deals at off-peak times and participate in discount programs. (And I know of many in the US that also have off-peak rates and junior golf deals.)
      My comments relate to the approach to golf across Mexico and not just Loreto. It’s such a wonderful game and should be more in reach for the masses. You are truly privileged to have the balance of living in Canada and in Mexico part of the year. Loreto is magical, whether you spend time in the town itself or the Village at Loreto Bay.

    • John Hawes says:

      Hey Eric..we are Canadians from Brampton who have heard that Westjet is offering round trips from Pearson in 2015 and are planning a winter vacation there in the new year. Do they still have the $240 monthly rate because that sounds good to me. Roz is correct fro the most part..the prices are ridiculous and it seems the operators would rather have them empty than charge realistic rates . Anyway, that sounds really good to us. please, if you don’t mind giving me an update. Please and thanks in advance. We read of a similar arrangement in San Carlos but it’s over 24 hours of hopscotch to get there.

  3. jck1 says:

    Great post. I’m not a golfer, so I look at these things perhaps a bit differently. But it’s a shame to see that course underused (or empty) on the several occasions we’ve been there. If they got more people on the course, it would then be more “in demand.” It’s like a busy restaurant (implied popularity and endorsement) versus an empty one that leaves you wondering “why?” So maybe if they dropped the price to be more in line with other golf courses in the area and got more people golfing, you’d think they could recoup the price on sales from the pro shop, or cart and club rentals, etc. We’ve noticed the same thing with the other “activities” — no matter what the demand, the price is static so the equipment does not get used. Travellers are just as price sensitive as nationals. It’s not about being cheap, it’s about weighing all the options available that day.

    • rozsmallfry says:

      Good point about the “in demand” perception. While there isn’t a lot of competition in the area in terms of golf courses, it’s still a pity to see such a resource not a hub of activity. More golfers are also a great help in building volume for the golf course’s restaurant, which offers great food and is another great asset for the whole Village, golfers or not.

  4. Gordon Fergusson says:

    I am going through the same dilemma and I am a retired Golf Professional of 37 years from Victoria B.C. bad marketing of golf which is in big deep ka ka ! charging lots but no one to be seen on the course as you drive by, can anyone realistically tell me how much it costs by the round or month as I would like to go to Loreto for a couple or 3 months in the winter, anyone out there let me know Gordie my E.Mail gfergusson@shaw.ca

    • rozsmallfry says:

      While we were there, the Pro Shop did advertise some rates for monthly passes that were a big improvement over the daily green fees. It was a few years ago now so it’d be best to go on the website http://www.loretobaja.com and send an inquiry in its “Contact Us” section. The area is gorgeous so I hope you get your opportunity to spend some time there this winter. I’ve heard that the Loreto Bay Resort has had new life breathed into it since we were there and that even the tennis courts have been repaired. Also check out http://loretomexico.com/golf.htm which gives an idea of rates. You might also want to check out http://www.villadelpalmarloreto.com/media/fact-sheets/villa-del-palmar-loreto It is a timeshare development about 45 minutes south and a golf course was planned for 2013. If it is now completed, you may be able to arrange a stay and play if you can tolerate attending an ownership sales presentation.

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