Golf is an expensive hobby. Of course, expensive is a relative term. You can easily spend a *lot* of money on golf, but you can just as easily enjoy the game with a frugal approach. I gave up on golf almost entirely when I started working on getting out of debt. However, I really missed the game and I finally came to the conclusion that cutting out something I enjoy to save money isn’t a wise thing to do (assuming it wasn’t financially impossible for me to keep playing, which it wasn’t).

I’m happy to say I’ve started playing golf again over the past month or two, but I’m doing so with a budget and I’m making an effort to stretch my golf dollars farther and to find good value. I no longer need to avoid golf. Though I may have to avoid the expensive courses, I can definitely play an adequate number of rounds and practice my game each month.

If you’re interested in the details, I’m starting with a budget of $50 per month. This is enough for about two to three (inexpensive) rounds of golf per month and some practice time.

Practice your short game more than the long game.
According to Dr. Bob Rotella, “If you’re not spending 70 percent of your practice time on shots from 120 yards in, you’re not trying to become the best golfer you can be.” [Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, pg 88]. Not only will practicing the short game save you money, but it’s better for your game. If I’m going to practice three days in a week, I’ll buy range balls one day and work on my long game, but I’ll only work on my short game the other two days. The trick to this is finding a course with good short game facilities. I’m fortunate to have two courses about twenty minutes from my home that have separate chipping and putting greens and one even has a separate pitching area for shots in the 70 – 100 yard range. I take advantage of these short game areas as much as I can. This is much easier if you have a ‘shag bag‘ and a collection of old (but still decent) balls. I don’t find my long game to be lacking at all and I’m definitely saving more and more shots around the greens.

Use old balls found on the course for practice balls.
During any normal round you’re going to come across lost balls. If I’m certain no one around has played the ball and it’s not badly damaged I’ll pick up as many as I can. I don’t use these balls to play, but I save them for the shag bag and use them on the practice greens. This is a great way to keep your supply of practice balls replenished (they will get lost and damaged over time) without spending any extra money.

Buy a ball retriever.
I used to think ball retrievers were a bit silly, but with many balls costing $3 – $4 each, it can quickly pay for itself. The best part is, a ball lost in the water may have only been hit once so you’ll often find balls that are essentially brand new. I also find that the golfers playing the most expensive balls are the least likely to bother to retrieve them from a lake. The better the course you play, the higher quality you’ll tend to find.

Check for tee times on GolfNow.com, but give the course a call too.
Golf Now is sort of like an Expedia or Travelocity for golf. It acts as the middleman in helping golf courses sell open tee times and you benefit by getting a reduced rate. I find rates are almost always cheaper on Golf Now, but not 100% of the time. To be really sure you’re getting the best deal, you might want to give the course a call before you book on Golf Now, just to be sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Play during off-peak hours.
For me, playing in Tucson, AZ, off-season is about May – September and the cheapest tee times are to be had in the afternoon. Of course, that means playing in 100 – 110 degree heat, but as they like to say, ‘it’s a dry heat’. As long as I stay hydrated and wear sunscreen, I really don’t have much problem playing in the heat here at all. I’ve suffered much more playing golf in the summer in San Antonio, TX (think 90 degrees with 90% humidity). If you’re willing to be less comfortable and play more golf when other people aren’t playing, you can save a lot of money. I played a course a couple of weeks ago that can cost as much as $170 per round during peak season for only $35. The course is still as beautiful and challenging as ever, I just had to suffer through the heat to enjoy it. :)

In summary, don’t make the mistake that I made and give up on golf (or whatever your favorite hobby may be) because of the cost, if it’s something you truly enjoy. It’s possible to find a middle ground and approach your hobby in a wise and frugal manner. Value can be found, you just have to work a little harder to find it. In the end, I’m much happier to be out playing golf again and my budget will be just fine.