Aspen Golf Club General Manager Jim Pratt was in the rough on Wednesday night, outlining changes to the pass structure and golf course ahead of local pass releases on Feb. 16 and the start of the season in the spring.
In the Aspen City Council chambers, Pratt and his staff fielded questions and prods from loyal passholders and community members as the club continues to navigate challenges that accompanied increased demand beginning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was such an uptick in people playing golf because they couldn’t do anything else,” Pratt said in a follow-up phone call on Thursday. “That’s what forced us to go into having caps on the passes and there’s been a balance of affordability and accessibility. That’s always been our mission at Aspen Golf Club, to not lose sight of those two things.”
In Wednesday night’s meeting, Pratt said that there were around 30,000 rounds of golf booked at Aspen Golf Club last season, up from around 27,000 in 2022. He said that unlike other places he’s familiar with, the demand for golf never went away after COVID lulled, maybe dipping slightly. In Wednesday’s meeting, he said that the course has the capacity for about 300 people a day during peak sunlight season.
Golf pass caps were developed in response to the COVID demand, and the club is continuing to tweak their availability to balance getting them to those who want them with keeping the course accessible to others. A main complaint from last year’s user survey, he said, was locals getting squeezed out of the course due to the demand.
“What we heard from the public was, ‘I live here, it’s not fair that somebody that is visiting or doesn’t use it year-round has access to the golf course over those that do live in town,’” Pratt said in the meeting.
At noon Friday, Feb. 16, locals with verified residences will get first dibs at passes. Pratt said around 750 people filled out primary residence verification during the application window in January.
Part of the initiative this year was a slight overall reduction in total passes available — to around 760 from 785 — and a shuffling of how many of each are available. Five more platinum passes — the all-inclusive highest level — are available (100 this year), with five fewer gold passes (now 180), 10 fewer silver (now 225), 15 fewer twilight (now 75) and a cap of 180 10-round punch passes.
Based on a document showing last year’s rates, platinum passes increased $250 this year, gold went up $150, silver $50 and 10-round punch by $100. Twilight went up $15, college went up $25 and junior went up $10. Full-price cart passes increased $20 and range passes held at $375.
Another change is the main passholder can only have four active reservations within their booking window — 10 days for platinum through silver and seven days for all other passes — which drew some groans from the about 20 people in attendance. Passholders can play additional rounds under others’ reservations and completed rounds don’t count toward the reservation cap, which won back some of the crowd.
The general public has access to two tee times an hour with a 30-day advance-booking window. The rest are blocked off for passholders.
Some in attendance noted disappointment in the differences between the platinum pass and gold pass. The platinum will run a customer $3,250 and cover green fees, cart fees and range balls with the 10-day booking window beginning at 7 a.m. A gold costs $1,600 and covers green fees with discounts on carts and range balls, with booking beginning at 8 a.m. However, a $375 range pass and an $800 cart pass — 50% off before May — have platinum holders paying a $500-$900 premium for the benefit of an hour head start in booking.
“I have to say that the perception is that a platinum passholder is continuing to get a little bit of a haircut year by year,” one attendee said, suggesting a revision of the booking time head-start to be more advantageous to the club’s highest spenders.
Pratt said it is too late to revisit this year’s rules after passing through the city and the club’s advisory board, but he encouraged the public to continue giving feedback.
The primary residence verification included five ZIP codes reaching as far downvalley as Carbondale. Pratt noted that in previous years, the largest contingent of passholders outside Aspen proper came from Snowmass Village, and that many have moved further downvalley but still consider Aspen their home course, despite other options in the region.
It’s a complicated dance of hitting the sweet spot of serving locals in a municipal course way while having a large resort-style clientele, plus some private interest as well.
“Trying to be all of those three things at once, it’s a fun challenge but a unique challenge as well,” Pratt said.
Plus there’s the out-of-season uses, like Nordic skiing, and the other offerings like the Red Mountain Grill, which renewed its lease for another five years, Pratt said in the meeting.
All told, the facility’s operating costs last year ran around $3.1 million including reserves, Pratt said. It generated about $2.8 million in revenue to address those costs and took transfers from the Aspen Parks Department amounting to around $375,000 from its general fund.
“The reality of it is that additional $475,000 gets us to a pretty much break-even point,” Pratt said. “It’s also there because what we really tried to pass on to the community too and try to explain was that we’re not just a golf course. The facility’s open 12 months out of the year. Right now it’s a Nordic facility and the building has wear and tear, there’s utility bills that happen during the wintertime, so the parks department helps us with those operating costs when the golf course isn’t open.”
The meeting also covered a change in booking software and some renovations to the course on hole Nos. 4 and 17.
Any passes remaining from the primary residence sale will be available to the general public on March 4.
“We’re fortunate,” Pratt said. “We’re trying to do the best with what we do have and we’re trying to utilize the community to make decisions for the future of the facility.”