Wherever I go, as soon as I tell people that I get to travel and write about golf for a living, the next question out of their mouths is almost always the same:
"What's your favorite golf course?"
And I have the hardest time answering, because it's really, really difficult to quantify the greatness of truly great golf courses
So from now on, I'm considering answer this question with a golf course I've never played before: The Ridge at Castle Pines North in Castle Pines, Colorado.
I've heard good things about this Tom Weiskopf-designed upscale public course in suburban Denver, but what makes me love the course from afar is not the design, not the conditioning, but one specific policy they have.
And it's the only public golf course I've ever heard of that offers...
Millenial discounts for golf.
If I arrange to play The Ridge and pre-pay for my round, I can show my driver's license, which lists me as having been born October 10, 1989, and I will pay a full $40 less than the normal weekend rack rate of $145.
At practically every other public golf course, it's bass-ackwards. Seniors get the discounts.
Which is not surprising. It's the way a lot of consumer businesses work. My parents, both of the Baby Boomer generation, love to go to the movies, flash their AARP cards and save a buck or so off the latest flick.
But golf courses are especially reliant on seniors. My dad plays at the amazing, newly-renovated Hartford, Connecticut muni Keney Park Golf Course and pays the "Senior" rate, which is a full $11 less than "Adults" pay.
Now, I completely understand that competition for golfers' business is fierce, and that seniors make up a huge portion of the golfing population.
But $11 a round over the course of a year's worth of rounds for an avid player - say, 50 - means a whopping $550 difference between a "Senior" and an "Adult." That's enough to pay for an extra weekend golf trip every year.
Is it any wonder that my generation is less enthused about the game than they otherwise could be?
Of course, to Keney Park's (and, also, practically every other course out there) credit, junior golfers get a nice break as well: they pay $13 less than "Adults" and a mere $2 less than "Seniors."
Which makes sense. Making the game affordable for kids (and, by extension, Mom and Dad, who are usually paying Junior's green fees) is a no-brainer way to help supply the game with new blood. It's necessary for the game's long-term future.
But why is it that the day those juniors turn 18, they're locked into decades of paying the highest possible green fee? And I don't know many 18 year olds - or, for that matter, 25 year olds - who are that much better off, financially, than 17 year olds. If they're not lucky enough to either play collegiate golf or attend a university with its own course, a lot of college students give up the game due to its expense. That's a big problem.
Now, I will concede that on the surface, it makes sense to offer a bit of a price break to retirees, many of whom are lifelong golfers but now find themselves on a fixed income, be it via Social Security, a pension or other retirement savings avenues.
But there's a big problem that few people foresaw a few years ago. Unfortunately, my generation is virtually guaranteed to be the first one to be worse off than its parents', for a number of reasons that needn't be rehashed here (wage stagnation, rising costs of higher education, yadda yadda yadda). Studies are showing pretty uniformly that the older you are, the better-off you are financially.
Which raises a provocative question: why are golf courses giving the break to the wealthiest generation, and leaving us cash-strapped Millennials out in the cold?
"Where have all the golfers gone?"
Should Millennials pay less than seniors? I'm not going to argue that; I'd be content to be invited to pay the "Senior" rate until I'm 32 or 35. But I will point out that many private clubs have responded to the generational wealth gap by offering "Young Executive" memberships with significantly reduced initiation fees and dues.
Regardless, why does only one golf course seem to grasp the fact that by endearing themselves to 20- and 30-somethings now, those folks will keep coming back when they're more established, less-squeezed 40- and 50-somethings?
When are more courses going to take the long view, like The Ridge at Castle Pines North, and bring their pricing structures into better alignment with the economic realities of the 21st century?
Hopefully soon, because once the Baby Boomer generation begins to age out of the game in large numbers (it's already starting to happen), courses that didn't plan for the future may well struggle to find customers of any age.
And then, heaven-forbid, all the bad, alarmist takes about how golf is dying (it's not) and how young people don't like golf (preposterous...it's just pricy) might actually start to look more plausible.
Here's hoping that doesn't happen.