(Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Rounds are up 20% at the municipal course compared to 2019, but use among its 1,000 season passholders is up 32% and many have been shut out as entire days get booked out in just a matter of minutes. The club has tried to institute a tiered system to give passholders of various levels a head start on booking times, but many are still asking about rebates or entire refunds, because they have not been able to secure slots to justify their membership. “We are all talking about [whether we should buy] passes next year or adjust the passes we do buy,” said one member.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people outdoors, filling up campgrounds, trails and parks around Aspen, Colo. at an unprecedented rate, scoring a tee time at the Aspen Golf Club has begun to feel like winning the lottery, The Aspen Times reported.
And the lack of available tee times has caused a lot of frustration among season passholders and city staff, who are trying to find solutions to address the high demand, The Times reported.
Steve Aitken, the city’s Director of Golf, told about 25 members during a Golf Advisory Board meeting earlier this week that he saw first-hand how ravenous people are to play golf when he watched the tee sheet on July 9, The Times reported.
“It literally booked out in three and a half minutes, and so 288 people booked out for the entire day,” Aitken said. “I couldn’t believe it was even possible.”
To address the high volume, Aspen GC’s pro shop last month made tee times available for passholders to book beginning at 7 p.m. each day, which allows them to reserve a slot seven-and-a- half days in advance, The Times reported.
The golf course was holding back the tee times until 7 p.m., at which time they are populated on the website for passholders to book exclusively, The Times reported.
“[On July 9,] eight foursomes booked in under 20 seconds and 21 users booked in under a minute, so everybody is literally on at 7 p.m.,” Aitken told the Board and golf club members. “We’ve got a very popular product.”
To address the 7 p.m. feeding frenzy, The Times reported. Aitken and the pro shop staff have changed the reservation system to be tiered for the different levels of available passes — platinum, gold and silver, twilight and punch. Platinum passholders, who have paid the most, now get to reserve online at 6 p.m. each day. Gold passholders book at 6:30 p.m. and all others are at 7 p.m.
“Total membership this year is right around 1,000 people; our platinum members only make up around 35 and then our gold make up around 120, so you’re only looking at about 155 members [who] are going to have that early access,” Aitken said.
Some passholders hit a snag, however, on the first night of the tiered reservation system, because booking requires a member to sign in before selecting a tee time, The Times reported, where previously passholders signed in when the tee time was selected.
The pro shop is closely monitoring the new system and will make adjustments if necessary, The Times reported.
Golf Advisory Board member Jeff Sivess, who is a silver passholder, which allows him to play before 8:30 a.m. or after 1 p.m. during peak season, said he’s still concerned that people like him will get shut out, The Times reported.
“At 7 p.m., you are going to have 340 people trying to make tee times and they are going to go quick,” Sivess said during the Board meeting. “I do want us to look at this rather quickly and maybe do something else. I don’t have the answer, but I appreciate you guys trying to do something.”
Eighty percent of play is reserved for passholders, Aitken noted, because only a total of an hour each day is open for the general public.
The times that are held for guests, who pay retail green fees, are from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. to 12:50 p.m. in an effort to accommodate passholders, who are playing far more than previous years, The Times reported.
“Right now, we’re putting across 20% more rounds than in years past this time of year,” Aitken said. “Year to date last year we did 11,000 rounds, and this year it’s 14,000 rounds.”
Passholder use is up 32%, The Times reported. with 8,730 rounds this year so far versus 5,919 rounds in 2019. And that’s with pass sales slightly down from last year and tee times every 10 minutes instead of 9 minutes for social-distancing protocols.
Austin Weiss, the interim manager of the city’s parks department, said that revenues are doing better than predicted in March when the pandemic first hit Aspen, The Times reported.
“But it’s not to say that we’re rolling in the dough so to speak,” Weiss said. “We are getting close to making projected revenues, and I think we’re on track to meet what we did last year.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, a gold passholder at Aspen GC, asked if there will be a rebate or break on next year’s passes, due to the lack of availability of tee times and other COVID-19 impacts, The Times reported.
“I think this is a way you could satisfy the members and guarantee that we’re buying passes next year; we are all talking about whether we should do that or adjust the passes we buy,” DiSalvo said.
As part of the 2021 budget process, the city manager’s office has directed him to keep pass prices the same as this year, meaning no increase, Aitken said.
“That is somewhat of a concession, [but] I don’t know with the amount of frustration that’s out there that it really accomplishes the objective,” Aitken said, adding that he and the staff have tried to accommodate people as best they can.
“I know we’ve really tried hard as a team in these circumstances to be as good as we can, but I gotta tell you, it’s been a heck of a challenge,” Aitken said. “I’m really proud of the staff we have and their extra effort that they’ve put out and the amount of phone calls and conversations they’ve had to have with people.”
Some passholders want refunds this year, as they haven’t been able to reserve even one tee time, The Times reported.
“I’m losing interest in playing golf at the Aspen course, because it’s a challenge to get a tee time,” said Helen Mellick, a silver passholder. “I’d rather get my money back or they figure out an easier process. I think there should be better communication on how to book online during this COVID crisis, and I know I am not the only one who feels this way.”
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