There’s no chipping around it. Golf is an expensive sport. And if you are a member of the Nantucket Golf Club, it is an extremely expensive sport.
But are we looking at the numbers the wrong way?
With summer officially underway and the demand to play golf about to predictably explode at the Miacomet and Sconset public golf courses, how much does the “average guy” have to pony up to play a full round of 18 holes of golf on Nantucket?
Unlike Bermuda which is less than half the size of Nantucket, that island destination offers a handful of public golfing options including three (Ocean View, Port Royal & St. George’s) courses that are actually owned by the Bermuda Government. With Nantucket offering only one, 18-hole public golf course, what can golfers expect at Ralph Marble’s former 400-acre dairy farm once inhabited by the Wampanoag tribe now known as the Miacomet Golf Club?
To get to the answer, one needs to dig a little deeper in the sand trap.
Matt Galvin is the president of Morningstar Golf & Hospitality out of Branchburg, NJ. After Al Costa’s wildly successful run as head of Miacomet Golf - highlighted by Miacomet co-hosting the prestigious 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship conducted by the United States Golf Association - Matt efficiently submitted the winning bid to the Nantucket Land Bank two years ago to run the course. Ironically, after unsuccessfully bidding against Costa a couple of times over the years, Matt, in effect, purchased Al’s golfing business and now runs NGM which is about to start its second full year at Miacomet.
Before slicing up the numbers, it is interesting to note that Matt has over 30 years in the golfing industry. At one point back in the 1990s, Matt actually was involved with a company that oversaw over 300 public and private golf clubs. But after going out on his own and later recommitting to a new business plan in 2013, Galvin opted to “focus on smaller, high-end courses”. Today, he manages four: London Golf Club which is a finalist to host the 2035 Ryder Cup; The Fox Hollow Golf Club in Branchburg, NJ; The Greate Bay Club in Somer’s Point, NJ; and the Miacomet Golf Club on Nantucket.
“I live a different kind of Bermuda Triangle. My triangle is New Jersey - London – Nantucket,” Galvin said. “While I am hands-on with all four golf clubs, I try to hire great people, provide them with the necessary support and professional tools, and then get out of their way,” he added with a chuckle.
Galvin went on: “On Nantucket, Sean Oberly is my vice president of NGM and the face of Miacomet Golf with Mike Haberl, Bram Daly and Jack O’Neil. Along with Ryan Scotto who is the superintendent of agronomy and Brian Conlon, I can’t think of a better golf team.”
Echoing the sentiments of my fellow Miacomet golf members, the conditions of the Miacomet Golf Course have been one of its strongest suits. From the players in the Mid-Am to Golf Digest and Golf Pass who routinely rate Miacomet Golf Club as one of the Top 10 public courses in New England to those who regularly play the Howard Maurer’s links-style course design, it is almost unanimous: “The golfing conditions are phenomenal, particularly the greens which are arguably the best on Nantucket.” That’s a strong statement considering Nantucket Golf Club’s unlimited budget and Sankaty’s strong tradition but Mid-Am participants don’t lie.
For the sake of this comparison, let’s forget the cart and walk - skip lunch (but not the hot dog hole) - avoid the temptation to purchase a new sleeve of Miacomet golf balls and instead, focus on the greens fee for 18 holes.
Assuming you are not a member in 2023 which hits the pin at $3,638 for an individual and $6,628 for a family, a single golfer has two choices:
A) Pay $245 per round
B) Purchase a “Resident Card” for $100 then pay a discounted rate of $140 per round.
If you are practicing for the SSATs, it would seem Option B makes more sense as a golfer would “pay” for the card in one round. Moreover, with resident card holders generally looking to get their money’s worth, one would need to play a doable 26 rounds of golf to better the annual membership fee.
Taking this one step further, these numbers would logically lead one to conclude that membership numbers should be going down and resident card sales should be going up.
Not so fast, Wyndham.
Since Matt and NGM took over and with the Land Bank freezing memberships, membership numbers have only dropped from roughly 385 to 360 despite some sizable increases in the annual dues over the past few years. At the same time, the waitlist to become a member exploded and is presently frozen at roughly 500. Consequently, one could be waiting close to 10 years before being eligible, especially if the Land Bank is looking at a more manageable membership level of 300 before re-evaluating its membership policy.
This slight dip in membership is hardly an alarming trend. Losing roughly 25 members due to attrition over the last two years does not represent a wave of defectors. Instead, it proves the point that current members are fiercely loyal. And if you saw the number of hardy, local souls playing throughout the winter months, you’d realize that this group of year-round golfers makes up a valuable portion of that dedicated Miacomet member number.
When it comes to tee times, the public side of the daily tee sheet is evenly split with the members’ side of the tee sheet. With the member number hovering around 360, by industry standards, the number of members is high for what is, in effect, a nine-hole golf course. With the members’ side of the tee sheets routinely filling out faster than the public side, predictions of a challenging summer at Miacomet appear to be in line with the following comparison: From January through May of ‘22, there were 7,113 rounds of golf played. From January through May of ’23, there were 6,728 rounds of golf played.
As Galvin summed up: “Statistically, that’s nothing. Frankly, that represents about two days of Miacomet Golf closed due to rain…”
During this recent stretch of unprecedented demand to play golf on Nantucket, it is only natural to expect some backroom discussions about golf expansion at Miacomet or Sconset. Land Bank members have quickly muzzled any serious discussions despite individuals in the community offering to fund 100 percent of the costs and going so far as to introduce golf course design expert Tommy Fazio into the discussion. Primarily due to “insurmountable environmental issues” and the uncertainty of the golf demand in five or 10 years on Nantucket, it appears if the Nantucket Land Bank is involved, playing Miacomet’s 18 holes or Sconset’s 9 holes will be Nantucket’s only public golfing options for the foreseeable future.
To many in the local golfing community, that is a frustrating conclusion especially as some Land Bank members negatively comment on the high costs associated with running Miacomet Golf on an annual basis. However, when doing so, they conveniently forget to mention that Miacomet Golf, which is arguably the Land Bank’s crown jewel, produces positive cash flow. That subliminal message is counterproductive to the residual benefits Miacomet Golf, Sconset Golf, the Nantucket community and the Land Bank receive from this positive cash flow. Not only does the income cover the annual operating expenses but it also offsets any significant money reinvested back into the courses by the Land Bank for capital improvements such as recent irrigation upgrades and new golf carts slated for 2024.
For those paying $240 a round at Miacomet, it is easy to find a greens fee at an 18-hole public facility for notably less around the state. For example, Pinehills in Plymouth is $37; The Ranch Golf Club in Southwick is $100; Brookside in Bourne is $94; the Segregansett Country Club in Taunton is $75; and the Chicopee Country Club is $40.
But let’s be honest, we are hardly comparing apples to apples when it comes to the total golfing experience at Miacomet versus the mainland. Especially when you consider the unique costs associated with labor, freight, housing, material, etc. that Galvin and company have to deal with on a daily basis, there really is not a “fair” comparison on the mainland.
A better example would be Farm Neck Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard which is open to the public. They have the same unique operating issues with a high demand for public tee times. Farm Neck sells an 18-hole round of golf for a robust $285.
But as I mentioned earlier, I am not sure we are looking at the numbers correctly.
Let’s assume everyone is paying an average $240 a round. If you are an excellent golfer such as Will Maier (Miacomet Club Champion for 2023), Steve Visco, Nate Roberts, Steve Gibson, Mark Silver, Chris Kling, Chip Stahl or Josiah Newman, you are going to shoot around 70 or 2 under par from the tips. That works out to roughly $3.43 per swing.
However, if you are a bit of a hack who is honest and shoots around 100, your average cost per swing drops 30 percent to $2.40.
The moral of the story is pretty simple: The better you are at golf the more expensive it is.
Maybe Lee Trevino was onto something when he said: “An interesting thing about golf is that no matter how badly you play, it is always possible to get worse…”
So, don’t get better - get worse. It will cost you less.
Disclosure: Chris Perry is a member of the Miacomet Golf Club and the former chair of the Miacomet Golf Committee.