Can We Tee Of Now? : There Are Ways to Beat the Crowds on Southern California Golf Courses


The scene is a common one at public golf courses throughout the Southland.

They’re full, and people are passing the time on putting greens and driving ranges or in pro shops and restaurants while waiting to hear their names called by the starter.

The wait can be several hours.

It doesn’t matter. Golfers are passionate about their game and patient when it comes to waiting for a tee time.


At some courses, people will sleep in the parking lot while waiting for the starter to show up, so they can make a reservation for the following week.

That’s dedication.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

A wise player, armed with a calendar, a watch, some rain gear and with little regard for holidays and major sporting events, can walk up to the starter’s window at many courses and get an immediate starting time.

In fact, at Industry Hills, where there are two courses, one can generally play at any time on weekdays during December and January. The $42.50 price tag, which includes a golf cart, might have something to do with the availability of tee times.

Still, in an unscientific survey of golf starters, it was discovered that play was slow on several holidays, early in the week and during inclement weather. There was one special holiday that stood out at most of the courses: Mother’s Day.

“Yeah, that’s definitely the day that slows us down the most,” said Dan Hornig, general manager of Los Angeles Royal Vista in Walnut. “It’s also slow on the afternoons of Thanksgiving and Christmas day, but nothing like Mother’s Day.”

Jim Dodds, course manager at the Sepulveda golf courses, also calls Mother’s Day his slowest holiday. “I guess that’s the one day where something comes before golf.”

There are, however, a few courses where even Mom has trouble interfering with the activities of dedicated golfers.

At Los Angeles city facilities such as Rancho Park and Griffith Park, which are among the most heavily played courses in the world, players need reservation cards to get tee times a week in advance--and they won’t give them up on the morning of Mother’s Day.

“It’s pretty full here all year round,” said Penny Siebrandt, starter at Rancho Park.

And Walt Mitchell, an assistant pro at Mile Square Golf Course in Fountain Valley, said Mother’s Day has changed along with the number of women playing.

“A lot of wives play now, so a lot of times they will want to play, and they’ll come out in the morning and go home and have dinners and so forth afterwards,” he said.

After Mother’s Day, the holidays that affect play the most are Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, July 4 and New Year’s Day. Although play is heavy in the morning, at most courses it drops off sharply in the afternoon.

Imperial Golf Course in Brea will be closed for Christmas, but a pro shop employee there said holiday seasons have little effect otherwise.

“We’re pretty much busy all the time,” he said. “Take this week, for instance. Christmastime, right? People have their minds on other things? (Thursday) I’m booked solid from daylight until 2:08 (p.m.). Friday, I’m booked solid until 2:22.”

At Griffith Park, days such as Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday also fail to reduce crowds, but starter Geoffrey Treat says there are other good times to play.

“Someone coming in after 8 on a Monday morning is going to get on pretty quick,” he said. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays are also pretty good.”

Mondays and Tuesdays are also the lightest days at Imperial, but that’s not the case at San Clemente Municipal.

“Years ago that used to be the case,” head pro Dave Cook said, “but not anymore. A lot of the locals don’t play on the weekend, so come Monday, they get the price break, and they are chomping at the bit to get out there, so it’s really busy.”

San Clemente does have an innovation that benefits those who hope to walk on: It leaves open three tee times (for 12 players) per hour to accommodate players without reservations.

Twilight rates are used at many courses--for a reduced price, golfers can play as many holes as they like in the late afternoon and early evening. It’s a good time to practice, but disheartening for a player who gets a hole in one because it isn’t official unless the round is completed.

Although golfers are known to put up with any kind of weather, in Southern California, rain keeps a lot of them home.

And if it’s cold, too, so much the better for the hearty.

Said Suzanne Bannan, starter at Costa Mesa Golf and Country Club: “If you want to come out and play and you don’t mind the rain, absolutely, it’s a good time to come out. If it’s just a drizzle, it will scare some people away.”

Major sporting events used to have an impact, but modern technology--that is, the VCR--has made this a virtual non-issue.

Said San Clemente’s Cook: “If you go out on the course, people will say, ‘Don’t tell me who’s winning, I’m taping it.’ ”

There was a time when telecasts of major golf events such as the Masters and U.S. Open might have cleared a course, but now any decrease in business is minimal. Golfers would rather play than watch.

After putting all of the information into a computer, it would appear that absolutely the best time to play on short notice, without a crowd, is on a cold, rainy Mother’s Day in the late afternoon when twilight rates have gone into effect.

Times staff writers Steve Kresal and Martin Henderson contributed to this story.

Tee Time

The 10 best times to get a tee time:

1--Mother’s Day

2--Cold, rainy days

3--Christmas afternoon

4--Thanksgiving afternoon

5--Monday mornings

6--Twilight hours

7--July 4 afternoon

8--Memorial Day afternoon

9--Super Bowl Sunday, during game

10--December, January at Industry Hills.