A price guide to America's most expensive green fees: What will you pay for bucket-list golf?

How much are you willing to pay for a great round of golf?

$75? $125? $150? More?

When I began researching the public and resort golf courses with peak green fees costing $200 or more, it wasn't necessarily to call them out for being "overpriced" or for "gouging" customers or being "most expensive." It was to find out what "bucket-list golf" costs these days.

The best golf is expensive. There's no sense in arguing that point. Think back to your favorite round on a perfectly manicured course under sunny skies. Was it almost priceless? Maybe. There are hundreds of courses, if not a thousand or more, that charge north of a Benjamin. Only the truly elite go past $200.

The interesting thing is, the dreaded "rack rate" I used to write this story -- a golf course's most expensive tee time -- has become fairly obsolete. Sure, golfers still pay it, but there are lots of ways around it -- golf packages for a stay and play, shoulder-season and twilight rounds, early morning and afternoon rounds, online bargains, etc.

[Related: Splurge on the most expensive golf courses in Canada]

Dynamic pricing has become the brave new world for most facilities. Troon Golf, a high-end golf course operator based in Arizona, has set the standard for this practice. Prices fluctuate not only from off-season to high-season, but also from day to day and hour to hour, depending upon availability, course conditions, weather, etc.

The "peak rates" used in this story were found three ways: online listings detailing "rack rates," searching tee-time booking engines on course/resort Web sites and by calling courses that didn't list any sort of fees on the Internet. All are subject to change, and some could be higher than the search engines showed.

It seems five factors drive up a green fee. All of these 120 courses I found with $200-plus green fees had at least one, if not more, of these traits:

• A "name" designer. Tom Fazio and Pete Dye led the way with 13 courses, followed by nine from Robert Trent Jones Jr. and eight by Jack Nicklaus. Fewer than 10 courses would have been designed by an architect you might not know.
• An affiliation with a high-end resort. Fewer than 20 weren't directly connected to a hotel/resort that made a stay and play a good option.
• A location in a prime vacation destination. The only truly off-the-beaten-path course is the Karsten Creek Golf Club, Oklahoma State University's home in Stillwater. California led the way with 20 courses, followed by 15 in Florida, 14 in Hawaii, 12 in Arizona and seven apiece in South Carolina and Nevada (call it the Sin City syndrome). More than two dozen states, including Midwest hotbeds like Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois, aren't represented.
• Hosting high-profile tournaments, whether now or in the past. Nearly 40 have hosted some sort of professional event or major exhibition, like a skins game or PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
• Offering caddies. Most of these courses offer some sort of caddie services. A few require hiring a looper.

Selling an expensive tee time requires the simple economics of supply and demand. People who want to play golf in Arizona, Hawaii or Florida during the winter are so golf starved that they'll pay just about anything. These states have a monopoly on the market at that time. The Sunbelt and desert courses listed can be hand for a fraction of the price in summer. In contrast, there are only nine courses from the Midwest (soon to be 10 with the opening of Mammoth Dunes at Wisconsin's Sand Valley Golf Resort in 2018) and five from the upper East Coast that charge more than $200 in the summer.

The majority of these courses have been recognized by Golf Advisor, Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and Golfweek in "best of" lists. Not all, though.

I needed two categories to break down which green fees were more expensive than others: Regular green fees (featured in this story) and resort/private courses that require at least a night stay at a local resort to gain access (featured in this story).

My final take from all this? Golfers can look at these prices from a half-full or half-empty perspective: You can decide they're out of your budget and avoid these places altogether, or this story can steer you where to play on your next getaway, knowing that these facilities will do their best to deliver top-notch service, conditioning, scenery and design.

This data can be quite useful for bargain hunters as well. If you're paying prices 20 percent lower than what's listed, you've got yourself a deal. Frankly, if you're playing any of them at all, consider yourself lucky. Most golfers won't pay this much for a round.

If we missed a course that should be included, let us know in the comments section below, but this is the most extensive list of $200-plus tee times ever published, 118 courses plus 42 more in the stay-and-play story:

Peak rate: $525 (caddie and/or cart not required)
Comment: A recent price increase means taking a caddie could drive your experience up to $650 for a single round.

Peak rate: $500
Comment: Fazio's transformation of the old Desert Inn course on the Las Vegas Strip closes for good Dec. 17, 2017, making way for a new lake entertainment park.

Peak rate: $395, plus $65 required caddie fee and $40 recommended gratuity
Comment: The next big event is the largest of them all, the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Peak rate: $495
Comment: Taking a swing at the island green might be the most nerve-wracking shot in golf.

Peak rate: $450 plus required forecaddie ($25 fee and $20 recommended tip per player)
Comment: The PGA Tour has been playing the Blue Monster since 1962.

Peak rate: $460 (caddie not required)
Comment: Hiring a caddie raises the price, although it's really the only proper way to walk Donald Ross's lasting legacy.

Peak rate: $425 plus $30 forecaddie and gratuity
Comment: Old-school golf characterizes the host of the Greenbrier Classic.

Peak rate: $395 with $50 fee for required forecaddie fee that includes gratuity
Comment: Cascata's rates are quite flexible, so nobody has an excuse that it's too expensive to play.

Peak rate: $395 (no caddie or cart required)
Comment: Spyglass Hill Golf Course would be a star anywhere else but the Monterey Peninsula.

Peak rate: $350 plus $30 forecaddie required per person
Comment: Mounds and volcano bunkers make this Dye course a brute. French Lick Resort's Donald Ross Course costs much less and delivers more fun.

One of the hardest and most beautiful golf courses in the world is the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C.

Peak rate: Non-resort guests: $374; resort guest: $341
Comment: Dye's subtle tricks get lost in all the scenery of the Lowcountry along the Atlantic Ocean.

12. Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort

Peak rate: $350
Comment: The finish at the candy cane-striped lighthouse -- the iconic symbol of Hilton Head Island, S.C. -- beckons.

Peak rate: $339
Comment: Rates on TPC Scottsdale's Champions Course top out at $159, making it more affordable.

Peak rate: Non-guest $325; guest $275
Comment: This original Seth Raynor course, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1977, hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup.

Peak rate: $325 unaccompanied guest
Comment: Who knew a course in Oklahoma -- not exactly a golf destination -- would cost so much?

Peak rate: $319
Comment: Walters Golf runs a tropical oasis in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip.

Peak rate: $310
Comment: Both Fazio courses touch the ocean at this posh SoCal enclave.

T-17. Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald and Bandon Trails Course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

Peak rate: $310 non-resort; $270 resort
Comment: Is there a better golf destination, dollar for dollar, in America?

Peak rate: $299
Comment: The AT&T Canyons Course, host of the Champions Tour's San Antonio Championship from 2011-15, tops out at $199, a third less than the Oaks, host of the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open.

Peak rate: $295
Comment: Those dreamy TV shots from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January help many golfers survive winter.

Peak rate: $292
Comment: A flip-flop of the nines between the two Tom Weiskopf courses in 2007 made them both better.

Peak rate: $285
Comment: Dye intertwined the course with Wisconsin's Sheboygan River perfectly.

Peak rate: $280
Comment: Nobody keeps the rough as thick and lush as Colorado's iconic resort.

Peak rate: $280
Comment: Last year was a tough one for this Dye design -- it lost the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and its efforts to remove three waterfalls were halted for environmental concerns.

Peak rate: $275
Comment: There might not be a prettier coastal setting for golf than the cliffs of Princeville on Kauai's north shore.

Peak rate: $275
Comment: The controversial and exciting 2015 U.S. Open has done wonders for business at Chambers Bay on the shores of Washington's Puget Sound.

Video: Matt Ginella on the history of Chambers Bay

Peak rate: $275
Comment: I could hit drivers all day and not clear the 260-plus-yard carry over the ocean cove on the famous par-3 third hole, maybe Hawaii's most famous par 3.

Peak rate: $275
Comment: Quintero should get more credit as one of Phoenix/Scottsdale's best courses.

Peak rate: $275
Comment: This classic 6,430-yard course -- overlooking Santa Monica Bay 30 minutes from LAX -- charges a hefty afternoon weekday rate for non-members looking to enjoy its hilly fairways and greens, all recently restored by Todd Eckenrode of Origins Golf Design.

Peak rate: $250 plus $25 recommended tip for mandatory forecaddie
Comment: The green fee includes a sports massage and new GPS in the carts, which are no longer cart-path only. This season is the 25th anniversary of the immaculate Scott Miller design and its famous floating island green.

T-36. Gold Course and Black Course at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort Naples

Peak rate: EDITOR'S 2017 UPDATE: $295 plus $30 per player caddie fee and $25 recommended tip for a mandatory forecaddie before 11:50 a.m. November-April
Comment: The Greg Norman courses host the Franklin Templeton Shootout on the PGA Tour and the CME Group Titleholder Championship on the LPGA Tour.

Peak rate: $270 resort guest; $270 plus $40 cart fee non-resort guest
Comment: The shot-making is tough, but the soothing views help on this ode to links golf at Pebble Beach Resorts.

The 165-yard ninth hole is actually one of the hardest at Erin Hills. Competitors in the 2011 U.S. Amateur averaged more that a stroke above par. The turtle-backed green and the deep bunkers surround it are the reasons for this difficulty.

Peak rate: $265 plus 6.5 percent sales tax (caddie not required)
Comment: The host of the 2017 U.S. Open just an hour from Milwaukee is no walk in the park for amateurs.

T-40. Pasatiempo

Peak rate: $260
Comment: The general public gets a rare taste of the genius of Dr. Alister MacKenzie in northern California.

Peak rate: $260
Comment: The canyon holes of the back nine are some of the best challenges in Sin City.

Peak rate: $260 for non-resort guests, $225 for resort guests
Comment: The new reversible courses by Dan Hixson beckon golfers to go off the grid to discover golf's newest resort north of Burns in remote eastern Oregon, a three-hour drive from Bend.

Peak rate: $259
Comment: The replica holes from Jack Nicklaus include black-sand bunkers from Old Works in Montana and pine trees from Castle Pines in Colorado.

Peak rate: $259
Comment: This SoCal course visits the ocean briefly at one green, but there's plenty of nice views from the posh St. Regis resort on higher ground.

Peak rate: $255 non-resort guests; $169 resort guest
Comment: The Senior Skins Game on Maui made Royal Kaanapali famous.

Peak rate: $255
Comment: These rates would be much higher if Streamsong wasn't 90 minutes from civilization in any direction in central Florida.

Peak rate: $255
Comment: Grayhawk has Phil's Grill, music piped by outdoor speakers and a bunch of PGA Tour events on its resume to impress golfers.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: Donald Trump spent millions upgrading these tired tracks when he bought the resort, hiring Gil Hanse to do the work.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: Although technically private, this off-the-radar club in northern Michigan does allow limited public play set up through a PGA Professional.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: Fazio's No. 4 might be my favorite layout at Pinehurst in the North Carolina Sandhills.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: Nobody does flowers and landscaping better than this SoCal Arnold Palmer design.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: The highest rate I found for the Ocean Course by Arthur Hills was $150. If that's true, that's a great deal for a routing with several holes on cliffs overlooking the Pacific in northern California.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: The American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament attracts good swings (Jack Wagner) and bad (Charles Barkley) every July.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: Tiger Woods won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf seven times on Kauai's Poipu Bay from 1994-2006, overshadowing Phil Mickelson's final-round 59 to win in 2004.

Peak rate: $250
Comment: This posh Park City private club offers very limited public tee times.

Peak rate: $249
Comment: Royal Links, just minutes from the Vegas Strip, features replica holes from famous links of the British Isles.

Peak rate: $248
Comment: This Greg Norman design is one of the most well manicured courses in central Florida.

Peak rate: $240 general public; $215 Maui resort guests; $199 Wailea resort guests
Comment: Both sit on high ground on Maui, giving off panoramic views of the ocean.

Read part 2 of this story here.

Read part 3 of this story here.

Editor's Note: We found additional courses with $199 tee times that would probably surpass $200 with taxes included.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Commented on

Golf is overrated, overpriced, and underwhelming. I’d rather have sex with myself.

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Commented on

These are BS prices....I have played half of these tracks and the only even comes close is Pebble Beach at $395 + $100 for the caddy.

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Commented on

I always book my golf vacations in shoulder season( usually April and September) and try to avoid weekends. The prices are so much cheaper. I've had golf vacations in , San Diego, Phoenix, Palm Springs,Bend , Oregon, St. George, Utah, Orlando and Myrtle Beach. I've never paid more than $65

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A price guide to America's most expensive green fees: What will you pay for bucket-list golf?