Third hole at Torrey Pines South Course.

By Ed Sherman

The proposed Jackson Park-South Shore restoration has lofty expectations to build a golf course that will be good enough to test the best players in the world, along with being playable for the rest of us mere mortals. 

That has prompted many questions about the price of greens fees and access for a PGA Tour caliber course. Getting to play where the pros play can often stretch the wallet at some private or premier resort courses.

However, Chicago Parks Golf Alliance officials repeatedly have stressed that the new course will be affordable and accessible for Chicago residents, with higher fees being charged to non-resident players. Mike Kelly, General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District has pledged to keep rates below $50 for Chicago residents.

There is a road map to see how it is done at other marquis city/state run facilities that stage some of the biggest tournaments in golf: Bethpage Black in Long Island in New York; Torrey Pines in San Diego; and Harding Park in San Francisco.

The bottom line for all those renowned courses: Significant priority is given to local residents in pricing and accessibility.

“Our system definitely is skewed toward New York residents,” said Bethpage’s Joe Rehor. “It has to be that way because this is a state-run course.”

According to a Harding Park representative, “(The city of San Francisco) made a policy decision to provide public golf courses including Harding Park as part of public recreation services to its residents, which included requirement to provide lowest rates possible for residents only at all public golf courses.” 

Ron Norris serves as Board Chair for the Jackson Park Golf Association (JPGA), a coalition representing over 500 long-time South Shore and Jackson Park golfers.  Many JPGA members play in leagues that have been active since the 1920s; among the first ever African American golf leagues.  Norris publicly stated the organization’s support in a September 2017 letter to local newspapers, directly addressing the topic of greens fees:   

“JPGA is confident in the Park District’s pledge to keep rates below $50 and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance’s push to maintain rates near their current levels. The proposed pricing models are acceptable to our golfers, provided free golf for juniors will also continue.

“In addition to playing Jackson Park and South Shore, many of our golfers play suburban courses at higher rates due to deteriorating narrow fairways, small greens, and flooding ‘dirt’ bunkers at Jackson Park and South Shore, as well as unsafe street crossings for carts and foot traffic. Time has taken its toll on the century old courses and golfers demand quality and upgrades for a 21st century course. Most golfers will accept modest price increases for a world-class golf experience closer to home.

The Chicago Parks Golf Alliance invited two JPGA-designated representatives to serve on its Board of Directors.  According to Norris, this provides Jackson Park and South Shore’s most loyal golfers with “ongoing engagement in reviewing restoration plans and offering suggestions directly addressing golfers’ concerns.”

Here is a more detailed look at how Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines and Harding Park manage priority rates and tee times for residents:

Bethpage Black 18th

Bethpage Black truly is unique, set in New York’s Bethpage State Park. If you’re from out of state, you better be prepared to spend the night in your car.

Bethpage already has staged two U.S. Opens and will be the host of the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup. So naturally, there is considerable demand to play the course. 

Despite having similar weather conditions as Chicago, precluding year-round play, New York residents still only pay $65 during the week and $75 on weekends to play the Black; there is a $5 reservation fee. The rates are double for non-residents. 

“We have a lot of out-of-state people who think paying $150-160 is not a lot of money,” Rehor said. “They’re coming to see the mystique of the Black course.”

But that’s only part of it for non-residents. Bethpage Black has a tee-time reservation system that strongly favors residents. They can book tee times up to seven days in advance. 

“If you want to play the following Saturday, call the previous Saturday at 7 (a.m.),” Rehor said. “We’re usually sold out in 15 minutes.”

Non-residents have limited access via the reservation system, resulting in them getting “the dribs and drabs” in tee times, according to Rehor.

The Black, though, does make tee times available for non-residents between 6 and 7 a.m., and then one time per hour for the rest of the day. To get those times, golfers literally park in designated spots and spend the night sleeping in their cars.

“They’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and I’m 71 years old,” Rehor said. “Our system works to the point where we don’t have much complaining. People understand how it works.”

Golfers aren’t “camping out” in their cars at Torrey Pines and Harding Park. However, like Bethpage, pricing and accessibility favor local residents.

Torrey Pines has two courses, the South and North. The South course hosted the 2008 U.S. Open and will get another one in 2021. Both courses are used for the Farmer’s Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.

To play the South Course, rates are $63 during the week and $76 on weekends for residents. Non-residents, meanwhile pay $192 during the week and $240 on weekends. The North Course, which recently was renovated by Tom Weiskopf, is only $41 during the week and $52 during the weekend for residents; it is $105 and $131 for non-residents. 

Here is a link to their rates.

Local residents can book tee times up to seven days in advance. The course does have a system allowing for limited tee times to be made 8 to 90 days in advance. It comes with a $30 reservation fee for residents and $45 for non-residents. For non-residents, it really is the only way to get a tee time.

Harding Park

Harding Park is slated to host the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2025 Presidents Cup. The San Francisco course charges $55 during the week and $73 on the weekend for residents. The rates are $155 and $187 for non-residents. 

San Francisco residents also can make reservations 7 days in advance, giving them the best shot at tee times.

Here is more about Harding Park’s resident program.

Nobody expects that people will be sleeping in their cars to play the new Jackson Park-South Shore course. But as evidenced by the way Bethpage, Harding Park and Torrey Pines operate, local residents and course regulars will get the first and best shots to play the new layout. Lastly, these techniques are not unique to tournament-caliber courses. Look no further than any suburban Chicago area municipal-run course, where that town’s residents are granted discounted rates and priority booking.