'Dynamic pricing' means higher fees at some golf courses

  • Joe Ligler of Elgin tees off on the 10th hole Wednesday at The Highlands of Elgin golf course, where rates surged during periods of high demand following the COVID-19 reopening.

      Joe Ligler of Elgin tees off on the 10th hole Wednesday at The Highlands of Elgin golf course, where rates surged during periods of high demand following the COVID-19 reopening. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Miller of Geneva warms up before teeing off Wednesday on the 10th hole at The Highlands of Elgin golf course.

      Jim Miller of Geneva warms up before teeing off Wednesday on the 10th hole at The Highlands of Elgin golf course. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Rocco Casamassimo of South Elgin plays Wednesday at The Highlands of Elgin golf course.

      Rocco Casamassimo of South Elgin plays Wednesday at The Highlands of Elgin golf course. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Rocco Casamassimo of South Elgin fires up his golf cart Wednesday at The Highlands of Elgin golf course.

      Rocco Casamassimo of South Elgin fires up his golf cart Wednesday at The Highlands of Elgin golf course. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/8/2020 2:05 PM

Golfers have been flocking back to suburban courses after they were allowed to reopen last week, which means rates have nearly doubled in some places that operate with "dynamic pricing" computer models.

For example, rates for Saturday morning at one point were up to $85 per player, compared to the normal $46, at The Highlands of Elgin golf course, which is owned by the city of Elgin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Others like the Arlington Heights Park District and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage, which are not using such computer models, said they are not increasing prices despite high demand.

Elgin has used dynamic pricing for several years, and the unique circumstances dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a never-seen-before spike, city spokeswoman Molly Gillespie said.

Dynamic pricing is based on a computer program that analyzes multiple variables -- weather, time of day, availability of tee times and more -- and continuously adjusts rates on a competitive model, much like airlines do for plane tickets, Gillespie said. An estimated 25% to 30% percent of golf courses use dynamic pricing, she said.

The state allowed golf courses to reopen May 1 with only two players teeing off every 15 minutes and walking only, which means slower games and about 70% less capacity, Gillespie said. "It's almost like every day is a rain day," she said. "We are not profiting or breaking even."

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Despite the higher pricing, 90% of tee times last weekend in Elgin were filled within eight hours of the start of online booking, she said. The city's golf operations are supported by user fees and not general taxpayer revenue. The city also is offering "sanity saver" membership discounts during COVID-19 through June 15 for its Bowes Creek Country Club golf course.

Arlington Lakes Golf Club has used the dynamic pricing concept in the past mostly to offer discounted rates at underused tee times, its golf operations manager said.

"With demand being so high, we have decided not to go above what our regular rate is," Tim Govern said. "Under the current restrictions of twosomes with 15-minute intervals, on the beautiful days we could have sold out three times."

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage also has offered discounts at times of lower demand, and there's no need for that now due to the high demand, particularly when the weather is nice, said its director of golf, Ed Stevenson.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We are within a dollar or two of our normal rates," he said. "Our relationship with our customers is a long-term relationship, and nobody wants to feel price-gouged right now."

Even with fewer golfers on the greens, the costs of maintaining and staffing golf courses are largely unchanged, Stevenson said. "Any silver lining might come later," he said. "With less wear and tear, the golf courses should end up being in very good shape at the end of the season."

Greg Malak of Elgin, who has membership at Elgin's three golf courses, said he's golfed at The Highlands of Elgin every day since May 1 except Tuesday, when it rained. Malak doesn't pay daily rates with his membership but has played in the past at other suburban golf courses with dynamic pricing, he said.

While many people are under economic strain because of the pandemic -- his own wife has been furloughed, he said -- they shouldn't blame golf courses for using the "supply and demand" model to try to recoup money lost during the forced closure, Malak said.

"It's just the way it is. If you want to play, you've got to pay," he said. "Maybe in June it will be better if they get to (allowing) foursomes every 10 minutes."

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