I watched the WGC Cadillac Championship this weekend, taking place at the famed Blue Monster at the Trump National Miami. After pumping in $200 million to renovate the course and put some teeth back into it, The Donald got his money’s worth as Patrick Reed’s winning score was a US Open-like 4-under-par. Only three players of the 69-man field finished in the red. Friday was especially brutal in the gusting winds. The average score was a 76 as no-one posted in the 60s while four golfers finished in the 80s. The winning score is currently the highest of any event in the 2013-14 season. I know some people get a kick out of this. To them, the scores still aren’t high enough. They want greens so slick you can putt into a water hazard, rough so deep the only way out is with a string trimmer and snowmen populating the scorecard. Some men just want to watch the world burn. I’m not that way. I love watching a second baseman turn a double play, a running back hit the hole at the perfect moment and a well-oiled San Jose Sharks power play score on crisp passing. I love watching the world’s top athletes displaying their talent, not suffering through some guy’s idea of protecting par: three-putts, evil bounces and general unfairness.
Okay, so one PGA Tour event in March happens to be pretty gnarly. Big deal. These guys are pros and if they want a piece of that $9,000,000 purse they need to bring their A-game. I’ll concede that. But the best part of watching professional golf is that each week the world’s best players take on a different golf course, many of which are accessible to the public. What other sport lets you do that? I can’t watch Giancarlo Stanton bomb a home run at Marlins Park and walk out to see if I can also clear the fence (though if I did walk out there, would anyone be in the stands to notice?). I can’t step out to center ice in Sochi and also try to score on a penalty shot a la T.J. Oshie. I can’t, and probably shouldn’t, gas up and try to turn in a lap as fast as Tony Stewart at Daytona. But I can watch Adam Scott go low at Bay Hill and then walk out the next day to see how I fare on the same grounds.
Given the weeklong national exposure afforded to any golf course that hosts a PGA Tour event, it’s understandable that they might be able to charge a premium to play where the pros play. A loop around the South Course at Torrey Pines can run up to $229. Harbour Town $272. $278 for Kapalua’s Plantation Course. Throwing down that much cash is not an easy thing to do for many of us. My budget barely leaves room for a night out after all expenses are accounted for. I can’t just reach into my money clip and pull out a few Benjamins that easily. But then again these are prestige golf courses and offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I’ll remember my day at TPC Scottsdale forever. With some restraint, it’s not too hard to eat in one extra night a week and squirrel away a few dollars to fill out a scorecard at these places. So what does Donald Trump want for a chance to beat myself up at the Blue Monster? $450. Four-hundred and fifty dollars!(!) Throw in $100 mandatory caddie fee and another $20 in lost golf balls, and you’re pushing $600 for 18 holes of golf. Some might see 450 reasons not to play there, but three come to the front of my mind. It’s too expensive, too hard and not prestigious enough.
I can count on one hand the list of golf courses that can get away with charging $500 for the privilege to play, with two fingers to spare. Ask even a casual golfer and they would agree. Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass and Pinehurst No. 2. These are places so pretty, so famous and so historic that it really is worth it to go. These are places people want to play and they come out in droves. Basic laws of supply and demand allow them to hike up rates. Is Doral’s Blue Monster in this elite class? No. Don’t get me wrong, the course is also pretty, famous and historic. It’s definitely worthy of its spot in the Golf Digest Top 100 list. But Doral is to Pebble Beach what the Padres are to the Red Sox. They may play in the same league, but you won’t ever see the Friars get away with charging as much for a ticket as Boston. Doral has a lot to envy. Prime location, a top-tier golf tournament, an awesome nickname, great finish and Donald Trump’s backing. But does that separate it from the places charging $150-$300 I mentioned earlier? No. Don’t charge me Boardwalk prices for an Illinois Avenue.
Remember what I said about the pros struggling here? Well then what do you think your average guest will post? Obviously, amateurs will play easier tees and the course will be in more forgiving condition. But a hard course is a hard course. The Stadium Course in La Quinta is so tough the pros had it taken off the schedule. And it is every bit as tough today, but still a ton of fun. In small doses, hard golf courses are enjoyable. They put your game to the test and make you really appreciate your good shots. But my number one issue with Doral is that they will charge $450 in greens fees to play a slope of 140 and shoot 100 at a resort course during what most likely will be a 5-plus hour round.
So here’s the big dilemma: I’ll never be playing better golf than I am now in my late-twenties, but I’ll never be more easily able to afford a round at Doral than my golden years when my salary is nice and inflated. So I could either spend all my money to have a fighting chance of enjoying my round with my 8-handicap, or wait until my swing is old and creaky but the impact on my wallet will most likely be relatively easier. Unless I find a winning lottery ticket or my book magically starts selling more than 10 copies a month, it’s gonna have to be the latter.
Mr. Trump, your golf course is beautiful. It’s easily one of my favorite stops to watch on tour. I would love to book a tee time during my upcoming trip to Florida. But while I understand luxury has its price and there is the Trump premium, no round of golf should ever cost someone $450. I don’t even mind the $100 caddy fee. I bet those guys put up with some tremendously rich assholes on a daily basis and earn every penny. Still, I’d consider it if I hadn’t just paid my taxes. Surely you of all people should understand the pain President Obama’s tax burden.