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May 2022

Chicken Wings and Golf

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By Jay Karen, CEO, NGCOA

My sixteen year old, perhaps the pickiest eater alive, loves the chicken wings at Rodney Scott’s BBQ, a James Beard-winning joint on upper King Street here in Charleston. Rodney Scott’s pricing has always been what I would call “strong” for (albeit very tasty) BBQ basics. Once COVID wreaked havoc on the global supply chain, it wasn’t an enormous surprise to read about a nationwide shortage of chicken wings. Rodney Scott’s let customers know there was a shortage and a commensurate price increase. I don’t remember if they said the price increase would be temporary due to such market conditions, but I knew I had to get mentally prepared to consider the chicken-wing effect on my dining out budget.

For my readers interested in one day indulging in Scott’s delicious wings, the pricing is 6 wings for $13.99, 12 wings for $26.99 and 18 wings for, yes, $41.99. Side note – it costs more for wings numbered 13-18 than it does any of the first 12 wings. It sort of makes you wonder if they want you buying 18 wings. If you can’t tell, I’ve lost sleep over this situation. And yet, when we go to Scott’s place, I still buy the wings.

What does this have to do with golf? There have been some discussions in the NGCOA community about rate increases public golf courses have (finally) been deploying in this high-demand time, not to mention the increases in dues and entrance fees happening in the private club industry as well. Some are concerned about the old “H word” that plagued our industry up until about 2006 (that word would be Hubris, by the way), or even the “G word” (that would be Gouging). These voices are concerned that courses are raising their prices just because they can, and warn that we still have to find ways to keep the game affordable and accessible to the masses. I’m assuming the concern is that if it’s priced too high, then golf remains a sport for the affluent only. Believe me when I say – *amen!

Why the asterisk with the amen? I too want golf to be affordable and accessible. Every American should be able to play golf, just like every American should be able to eat chicken wings. In golf, my feeling is that supply and demand realities (coupled with the still-present barter and price abdication arrangements with companies like GolfNow) will naturally take care of keeping pricing “affordable” at thousands of golf courses. While municipal golf courses have shown increasing interest in treating their operations like profit-making entities, they still have affordability and accessibility in their DNA. That will continue to ensure that markets all over the country have something for everyone.

The average green fee in the US is still somewhere in the $30s, the same ballpark we’ve been in for the past 15 years. All the while, nearly every line item under a course’s Cost of Goods Sold and Expenses has risen. All the while, the Consumer Price Index has crept up each and every year, and we’ve stayed flat. In my estimation, we are not only playing a little catch up, but we are finding good health again. Courses may now finally afford to make the capital expenditures they’ve been putting off for one or two decades. Once again, we may be able to test the upward boundaries of pricing, which is what entrepreneurs do! If those entrepreneurs cross a line, their customers will let them know. I’m certain of that.

Cheers to finding good health again. May we respect and understand the laws of supply and demand, but also take some calculated risks.

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