Health & Fitness

10 tips to save money on your golf game

These tricks can save you some green while you're out on the greens

A yellow flag at the 18th hole on a golf course Credit: Getty Images / pidjoe

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Golf can seem like a sport with a complicated set of arcane regulations, but one axiom is clear: it can be expensive to play. Clubs, balls, and the latest gadgets can siphon your bank account. There are ways, however, to enjoy yourself while you’re out on the links—and save some money at the same time.

Case in point: My first time out this year, I played 9 holes with two buddies on a Wednesday evening at a public course. I walked using my own pull cart, brought my own drinks (which included a frozen bottle of water to keep my other two bottles cold) and stashed a package of cashews in my golf bag for a snack. The cost? $20.50. Had I taken a riding cart, bought a burger and a Gatorade, and played 18 holes on Saturday morning, the price tag at that same course would have been roughly $75. Even if you add in the cost of my snacks from Costco, I could have played two more 9-hole outings for less than the weekend round.

The key to saving money in golf is to know what you're getting into, what options you have, and how some simple decisions—like booking a later tee time—can put some green back in your pocket.

1. Research greens fees to get the best deal

GolfGreens
Credit: Getty Images / kokouu

Greens fees can be your biggest expense, but you can save money with a flexible schedule.

After you have all your equipment, greens fees—the cost to play a round—will set you back the most. Shop around. Day of the week and time of the day also matter significantly when it comes to cost. If you are not beholden to playing a certain course and are willing to try something new, you could find deals on out-of-the-way courses or less popular tee times. Think of it like buying an airline ticket: if you have flexibility, you can save cash.

2. Look for “twilight” tee times

GolfTwilight
Credit: Getty Images / Wand_Prapan

Picking a later tee time can save money on some courses.

Most courses have cheaper rates after a certain time of day. Be sure to ask what time twilight rates start. Typically twilight starts in the mid-afternoon, but it can vary depending on where you live and the time of year. Don’t underestimate the difference in price here. If twilight rates start at 3 p.m. and you are debating between a 2:30 and 3:30 start time, you could save upwards of 50 percent at some courses.

3. Once you decide where to play, book tee times online

GolfOnline
Credit: Getty Images / laflor

You can book tee times online from a laptop, tablet, or mobile device.

Golf courses look at tee times as entries on a spreadsheet. The more that get filled up, the stronger their bottom line. Often you will see advertised times for a Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. to draw you in because those slots are rarely filled. Spend a few minutes searching around sites like GolfNow.com and TeeOff.com. (Make sure to do a Google search as well because your location might have a website specifically tailored to your area courses.) This research will pay off. Don’t forget to check online reservation policies, too. If the weather turns bad or you have to cancel at the last minute, some courses might still charge you even if you don’t play. Getting a rain check is possible, but I’d prefer my money back.

4. Find a local “discount card” to help save on greens fees

If you're planning on playing a few times a month or more, look into discount cards for local courses. They might be labeled as a “passport” or a “season pass” but they are all relatively the same. Pay a set fee for this card—often between $50-100—and it will get you discounted rates at area courses. No two cards are the same, so do your research as to which courses participate near you. (Here's an example of one for Southern New England, but if you Google "golf discount card" and your general area you can find the savings near you.) If the list includes courses you would likely play, then it’s probably worth it. Always double check to make sure of the restrictions. If the card says you get discounts on weekdays only, and you know that doesn’t work for your schedule, you might want to take a pass. Otherwise, this card could pay for itself in just a handful of rounds. In addition, online ratings might help you decide on this purchase, so check the course reviews before spending the cash.

5. Stock up on sundries before you get to the course

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Credit: Getty Images / warrengoldswain

Keeping sunscreen in your bag means that you won't have to pay more at the pro shop.

If you are short on golf balls or forgot your sunscreen and have to buy them at the pro shop, you’ll pay a premium. Stock up before you leave the house. For me, I always have at least a dozen “game ready” golf balls at home. Depending on your level of play, bring at least two sleeves (there are three balls in a sleeve) with you. If you are just starting out, that dozen should find its way into your bag every time you tee it up—and keep an extra dozen at home in case your friends want to play again tomorrow. As for sunscreen, always keep some in your bag. Your skin will thank you.

6. Shop for expensive golf clubs at the end of the season

Golf clubs could easily be your most expensive item. Think about them like any other big purchase. If you're buying a car, for instance, it's smart to shop when the dealership is trying to get rid of old inventory. It’s the same with golf clubs. That typically happens in late summer or early fall. If you don’t mind playing last year’s model, you might save a few hundred bucks on a brand-new set.

7. Thinking about lessons? Turn to YouTube first.

Learning from PGA pros is always the best idea. If you are just starting out, pull up some videos on your cell phone instead of shelling out $50 bucks (or more) an hour for an individual lesson. A quick search for Rory McIlroy brought up a clip of him and his longtime coach sharing their secrets. That being said, once you decide that you are in this for real, find your local PGA pro for individual lessons. They are definitely worth the time and the expense to improve your game.

8. Try an executive course to hone your game

These courses are often cheaper and it will actually help your golf game more than you might think. Because these courses are mostly par-3s, you’ll rely more on the short irons in your bag—a.k.a., the “scoring clubs”—and get to practice your strategy from 100 yards and in. (In professional golf, this is the area “where the pros make their money.”) Some holes might extend to 150 yards, but the par-3 courses mean you will rarely—if ever—use your driver.

9. If you’re new, only buy the equipment you really need

GolfTee
Credit: Getty Images / VichienPetchmai

If you are just getting started in golf, there's no need to spend a lot of money on basic golf equipment. You can cut down on costs by playing with recycled golf balls, wearing running sneakers instead of buying golf shoes, or purchasing used clubs. You'll get a chance to see how much you like the sport, without worrying about getting too invested.

10. Take care of your gear to get the most out of your money

Nothing will cost you more than broken equipment. Make sure you take care of your clubs, gloves, bags, and other equipment by periodically cleaning your gear and storing it all properly. You'll be better off upgrading your gear when you want to, not when you have to.

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