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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Is this the future for golf in Mexico?