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GOLF / FRED ROBLEDO : Fees Take Divot Out of Golfer's Wallets

July 15, 1993|FRED ROBLEDO

The golf boom continues in Southern California, where demand for playing times exceeds the availability of courses.

Actually, that's only partially true.

The golfer with enough cash in his pocket and gas in his car can get on a course on about any day of the week.

A golfer doesn't have to phone for reservations a week in advance to get on one of two courses at Industry Hills. Many times a weekday golfer will be asked how soon can they arrive. They just need to have $42 for green fees.

Another 100 miles to the east, at Mission Hills North in Rancho Mirage, plenty of weekday times are available during the hot summer months. For $50, a golfer can play the course, and get a cart and range balls. In the fall, the price increases to $100.

But not everybody can afford $42 or more for green fees. Many of the regulars who play Los Angeles County courses are senior citizens on fixed incomes or working people with low to moderate incomes who have to carefully monitor their money.

Unfortunately, if the trend of rising green fees continues, many of the regular customers may soon be priced out.

South Bay golfers are paying $15.50 to play public courses on weekdays and $19.50 on weekends. Those fees are going up to $17 and $21 in October, only nine months after the fees were raised by $3.

The County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for the increases because it needs to raise funds to help offset a record county deficit.

Los Verdes, Chester Washington, Alondra, Victoria and Lakewood are among the county courses that will be affected.

The rise in fees has been dramatic:

* In 1975, a golfer could play a public course for $4. * In '80, the fee increased to $5. * In '85, the fee increased to $7. * In '92, fees were raised to $11. * In '91, fees were raised to $12.50. * In '92, the fee increased to $15.50.

And now the latest increase. Overall, fees have risen 55% on weekdays in less than two years and 143% since 1985.

"Golfers in Southern California have a right to be upset at the increases," says Craig Kessler, the public affairs chairman for the Southern California Public Links Golf Assn., which is a 22,000-member dues-paying organization of golfers attached to public courses.

"In the beginning, when private management groups were taking over the operation of the courses, the fee increases were warranted because improvements were being made on the courses," Kessler says. "In other words, we could see our money being put back into the courses. But that is no longer the case. (The Board of Supervisors) keep raising the fees because they're out of money and see this as a way of raising it."

If fees continue to rise at the current rate, golfers could be paying more than $50, cart included, before the turn of the century.

Non-resident golfers are already paying $39.50, without a cart, to play Torrey Pines, a public course in La Jolla.

Recent increases have already been reflected in decreased play at some courses, although the revenue has increased.

At Lakewood, Jack Thompson Par-3 and Chester Washington, 187,122 rounds were played from April, 1991, through April, 1992. In the next year, there was a decrease of 22,248, but because the fewer golfers were paying more money, revenue was up $55,771.

The number of rounds at Los Verdes decreased by only 547, but at Victoria, a course in terrible condition, play was down by more than 7,000 rounds.

So it appears that public courses will begin to look more like private courses, where the play is light and only the wealthy can afford a round.

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