Many years ago, municipalities built golf courses as recreational facilities. Utah's bright golf scene is mainly because most of its courses are public owned.
With increased interest in the game and because of pressure from non-golfers, however, golf is becoming more of a business. Now, recreation is not the only reason cities and counties build golf courses.Some government officials see a golf course as a tourist attraction or a revenue source. They don't view golfers the same as they do swimmers, or tennis and softball players - they want golfers to pay more than it costs to provide golf.
Most golf courses now set greens fees at the market rate and take in more than necessary to pay maintenance and operating expenses. Even in Utah, where greens fees are among the lowest in the country, almost every course shows a profit.
Increased interest in golf has also resulted in a greater demand for tee times. Some courses increase greens fees strictly for crowd control. If they don't charge what neighboring or comparable courses charge, they'll be overrun.
Across the country, public-owned courses have tried to offset rising greens fees by giving residents a break - charging them less than non-residents. The higher non-resident rate also helps reduce pressure on tee times for residents. Those that offer a resident rate say more than 60 percent of their clients are residents.
In most cases, government leaders don't want to price the residents out of using the facility since they - as voters and taxpayers - supported the construction of the course. But at the same time, they don't mind making a little money off of those who didn't fund the course construction.
The national trend doesn't seem to be catching on locally. In Utah, resident and non-resident greens fees are uncommon. Only a handful of courses give residents a reduced rate.
"There's always some discussion about it, but nothing ever comes of it," said Mountain Dell professional Tom Sorenson.
St. George, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Lehi, Cedar City, Park City and Vernal are the only cities that offer resident golfers a break. Salt Lake gives resident pass holders a $1 per round break, but no one else.
"I've heard no one complaining," said Wingpointe assistant professional Kury Reynolds. "Golf's so cheap around here anyway."
Those that do offer a reduced resident rate do so to reward those who backed the course financing and to give them better access to a facility that they partly own.
"It's simply a benefit for the residents for supporting the construction of these courses," said Dave Terry, St. George's golf manager. Residents of Washington County get a reduced rate at all St. George-owned golf courses and at the privately owned Entrada at Snow Canyon.
Those living in American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Lehi are rewarded the most at their golf course. Tri City Golf Course not only gives residents of the three cities a reduced daily rate, it only sells season passes to residents. The resident policy was implemented two years ago on the recommendation of the Tri City Golf Committee.
"We felt like residents should get a break because they're the ones who stuck their necks out and made the sacrifices to get the place up and running," said committee chairman Kent Peterson.
The committee also wanted to ensure that residents had better access to the course, and that's why it decided to only sell season passes to residents.
"If we didn't do something, the residents would be priced out of it," Peterson said. "We didn't want to get to the point where residents couldn't get on the place."
While courses that give residents a reduced fee say they hear few complaints, one of the main players in Utah's golf scene opposes the idea. Joe Watts, executive director of the Utah Golf Association, says charging non-residents more is an unnecessary barrier in Utah.
"We've got the best golf situation I've seen anywhere," Watts said. "Charging non-residents more would only lend chaos and show unfriendliness. If it were to happen along the Wasatch Front it would be a real shame."
Watts say the Wasatch Front is basically one metropolitan area and that residents share many services. He believes if a few cities start charging non-resident rates, others will soon follow suit and the price of golf will go up for everyone.
"Everyone would be paying more and no one would be getting more but the golf courses," he said.
He also fears cities might view non-resident rates as a revenue source and using a golf course to generate revenue is comparable to taxing golfers. He says all courses should run on an enterprise fund, and money taken in should only go to course improvements or be used as seed money for new course construction.
Those in Utah's golf scene say season passes and punch cards give residents the reduced rate they deserve. Utah is one of the few places were season passes are still offered. Non-residents are less likely to purchase passes and punch cards because they use the courses less.
Utah golf courses that offer residents a reduced rate:
Golf Course Resident Non-resident
Park City $17.50 $23.50 to $30.50
Tri City $15 $18
Dinaland $16 $18
Cedar City $16 $18
Red Hills $13 to $16 $17 to $25
St. George Golf Club $13 to $16 $17 to $25
Southgate $13 to $16 $17 to $25
Sunbrook $18 to $26 $22 to $36