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College Golf Pass targets low-priced rounds

Offers reduced fees at participating courses

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

While at Bryant University, Kris Hart came up with the College Golf Pass after seeing how ski resorts lured students by granting discounts on lift tickets.

For many, college life follows a familiar pattern: A steady dose of Ramen noodles, bad beer, hook-ups, break-ups, noon wake-ups, and the occasional academic all-nighter. Rarely is golf a consistent part of the college experience.

Kris Hart is trying to change that. He’s already offering it.

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Hart is the creator of the College Golf Pass, which provides reduced greens fees at participating courses. Started in 2011, the CGP already has 77 course partners throughout New England, including 28 in Massachusetts. Next month the CGP will expand to New York and New Jersey, and Hart dreams of it someday becoming a national program.

“We’d love to get hundreds of thousands of college kids out on the course,’’ Hart said. “Golf is in decline, there’s not many new golfers getting into the game. Golf does a phenomenal job with juniors, all these different programs out there. Then you turn 18 and you’re shut off.

“Our goal is to grow the game and get kids out there playing.’’

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Hart hatched the idea with the help of a different sport. A native of East Longmeadow, Hart played college golf at Bryant for his first three years, but not as a senior so he could take enough classes to graduate on time. He noticed that a pass specifically for college students was popular at ski resorts (offering reduced lift tickets), and wondered if a similar idea would work for golf.

After graduating with a finance degree - Hart works as an account manager in research sales at Cerulli Associates in Boston - he began formulating a business plan for his new venture, cold-calling courses and selling them on his idea.

It wasn’t easy at first.

“Getting that first course to say yes was really hard,’’ Hart said. “I was told that golf course owners hate discounting their brand.’’

Hart said he sold golf courses on the idea by the potential for attracting new customers.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Hart said he sold golf courses on the idea by the potential for attracting new customers.

His sales pitch to golf courses?

“The real benefit to them is this is a new demographic, it’s new people to the course,’’ Hart said. “They fill vacant tee times that may not be filled so they set restrictions of when they’re slower to get college kids and younger people there. For them, it doesn’t cost anything, and it really builds a brand and marketing that they are a course that helps out the kid in college, and I think that builds some good will in the community.

“Beyond that, if a student comes to the course when they’re a senior in college now through the program, and then they graduate and next year they’re a full-paying adult, they’re going to think of your course if they’re in that area.’’

Stow Acres Country Club was the first course to sign up. Braintree Municipal, Robert T. Lynch Municipal Golf Course at Putterham Meadows, and Pine Ridge Country Club in North Oxford were quick to follow. Courses that partner with the CGP set their own rates and implement any restrictions.

“Kris impressed me,’’ said Bob Beach, head professional at Braintree Municipal. “That 18-to-22 age group is who we’re trying to get to come out. It’s worked out really well, but I want to do more, maybe do a clinic for them to get more beginner golfers.’’

Here’s how the program works: Any college student can go to www.collegegolfpass.com and purchase the CGP, which costs $40 each year. Participating courses offer discounts to those with the pass. Some savings are minimal, while some are higher than you might expect. Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston has weekend greens fees of $77; those with the CGP can play it for $33, a discount large enough that it pays for their membership dues in one round.

The program has attracted buyers from as far away as McGill University in Montreal to Southern Missouri State. It’s also produced a bulk buy from the golf club at Holy Cross, a new club now numbering 40 strong.

“Every single week that the weather’s been good we’ve been able to play,’’ said Harry Chiu, who created the Holy Cross golf club as a freshman and will graduate Friday. “We generated a lot of interest at the beginning, but it was still expensive to go out and play. On occasion we’d go out, but our club members would still have to pay full price. I want to say we’ve probably played 500 percent more this year than any other given year because of the College Golf Pass.’’

That’s the kind of testimonial Hart is looking for. It wasn’t long ago that he was the one in school, cutting back on his rounds because costs were creeping up. Now he’s part of something that can help alleviate that, which might give more people a reason to try golf.

“I didn’t play much golf [as a senior], just because it was $50 and I couldn’t afford it,’’ Hart said. “Not that I didn’t want to, it was just too expensive to do it. I think there are so many more kids like that, who kind of write it off. They like to play, but they can’t afford it.

“With the pass, on average, you’re going to break even if you play two rounds of golf. Our goal is to encourage kids to get out there and play. If they play two rounds, that’s great. We want kids who play two rounds to play 10, the kids who play 10 to play 30, and the kids who don’t know how to play to learn.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.
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