Partly because of its country club history and partly because it's such a merchandise-heavy sport, golf has the reputation for being a costly pastime. We decided to do the math and find out if it really is. All of the scenarios below assume Washington's seven-month golf season, which goes from mid-March to mid-October.
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You're a player who likes to get together for a game with friends every now and then. Practice? That would make a game too much like work. Your expenses for the season:
Four dozen balls ($15/dozen) $60
Tees, ball markers, gloves, shoes, other golf shop paraphernalia, $100
Five 9-hole rounds ($22 per), $110
Seven 18-hole rounds ($45 per), $315
19th hole expenses: $120
Convert on a Budget
You've just caught the bug but are not, how you say, any good yet (this stage may last for years, by the way). What you lack in skill you make up for with steely determination. You visit a practice range twice a month during the season (getting the small bucket of balls, so you can spend more time putting and chipping. You do know that's the quickest route to a better game, right?). It assumes playing about twice a month during the season, half of your rounds nine holes, and half 18. And you're playing lower-priced public courses (and you're walking. You need the exercise).
If it's your very first year, you'll need to add $50 to $250 for a modest set of starter clubs, depending on whether you buy them at a yard sale or a retail store. Or borrow them if you can. Ignore for now the advice to get properly fitted for a decent set of clubs. Wait until you know you really want to play this game.
Four group lessons, $120
Subscription to golf magazine, $25
Two golf books, $30
Six dozen balls ($15/dozen), $90
Tees, ball markers, gloves, foolish practice devices, shoes, other pro shop paraphernalia, $200
15 small buckets of balls at practice range ($5 each) $75
Seven 9-hole rounds ($22 per), $154
Eight 18-hole rounds ($45 per), $360
19th hole expenses (including a few lost bets): $200
Golfer With a Mission
You are determined to join the 10 percent of golfers who regularly shoot scores below 90 -- or die trying. You may decide to upgrade your hardware. An upgraded set of clubs will run from $500 to $2,500, and should indeed be fitted by a golf retailer. An upgraded bag adds $100 to $150. To keep your 18-hole rounds at $50 average, you'll need to play twilight and weekdays -- and walk. (Hey, by now you are in good shape, right?)
Playing 21 times per year puts you on the cusp of what the National Golf Foundation calls the "avid" golfer. Your friends and family increasingly invoke the "A" word (as in, "Is daddy addicted to golf?").
Eight individual lessons, $560
One day-long group clinic, $120
Subscription to golf magazine, $25
Five golf books, $100
Eight dozen golf balls ($20/dozen), $160
Tees, markers, shoes, etc., $250
Two new clubs (putter, wedge, etc.), $250
21 small buckets of balls ($5 each), $105
Seven 9-hole rounds, $175
14 18-hole rounds, $700
Regional golf trip with pals, $400
19th hole expenses, $300
Serious Player With Available Credit
You are now the avid player who has decided to devote himself or herself to the game. This level of play is often associated with relationship problems, unexplained disappearances from work, prolonged viewing of the Golf Channel and other aberrant behavior. In addition to the annual club upgrades listed below, golfers at this level are likely to invest (in futility) in a new set of irons, $750-$1,500, every three to five years.
The only consolation is that while golf may soak up all your expendable income, if you play this much you don't have time to do anything else anyway.
10 individual lessons, $800
One regional weekend golf school, $500
Subscriptions to two golf magazines, $50
Golf books, videos, software, $150
10 dozen golf balls ($30/dozen), $300
Tees, markers, shoes, etc., $300
New driver, wood, wedges and/or putter, $500
20 medium buckets of balls (you quit listening to the advice about your short game, $7 each), $140
10 9-hole rounds ($25 per), $250
20 18-hole rounds ($65 per), $1,300
Regional golf trip with pals, $500
Off-season trip to Florida, Arizona, etc., $1,200
Golf on "business" trips, $500
19th hole expenses (including more lost bets), $450