How Tee Time Brokering Sparked Outrage in Los Angeles

In the sprawling urban landscape of Los Angeles, where parks and recreational activities abound, golf has become a battleground over public access and fairness. Recent controversies have spotlighted the city’s public golf course reservation system, managed by NBC Sports NEXT for Golf, revealing deep-seated issues with brokers exploiting the system for profit. This article examines the complex saga of Los Angeles' golf courses, exploring the emergence of a lucrative gray market for tee times, the vehement community response it provoked, and the measures taken by city officials in an attempt to restore equity to the beloved pastime.

Challenges in Securing Tee Times at LA City Golf Courses

For years, golfers at Los Angeles’ municipal courses have faced significant challenges in securing tee times, with many suspecting that not all was fair in how these slots were distributed. The suspicion that brokers were manipulating the system gained traction as golfers found themselves consistently locked out of prime playing times, pointing to a problem greater than simple supply and demand. The LA City Golf Player Card is a key element that has become central to the ongoing disputes and legal actions. For an annual fee of $25, the Player Card is marketed to local golfers as a means to enhance their access to tee times. The card purportedly allows holders to book tee times up to nine days in advance, compared to the standard seven days for non-cardholders. This advantage is designed to offer significant value to frequent players, providing them with early access to the highly sought-after tee times at the city's popular public golf courses.

The intention behind the Player Card is to facilitate better access and to reward local golfers for their patronage and support of municipal golf facilities. It's an incentive that underscores the city's commitment to making golf accessible and enjoyable for its residents. However, the alleged infiltration of brokers and their manipulation of the booking system has undermined this benefit, leading to frustrations among cardholders who find themselves unable to utilize the advanced booking privilege they paid for. This has escalated to the point where the effectiveness and value of the Player Card are being legally challenged, questioning the city's management of its public golf resources.

Emergence of the Broker System

The situation reached a tipping point thanks to Dave Fink, a 35-year-old golf teaching pro and native Angeleno, who took to social media to voice his frustrations. With over 200,000 followers on Instagram, Fink highlighted a secretive but booming black market where brokers charged exorbitant fees to book tee times at popular courses like Griffith Park and Rancho Park. His campaign, dubbed #FreetheTee, quickly gained momentum, drawing attention to a system that seemed rigged against the average golfer.

Finally, somebody told him the truth: 'Hey, there’s this guy, and the only way you can get in touch with him is through this Korean messaging app called Kakao,' Fink explained in a viral video. He revealed a broker’s menu listing prices per tee time, which during peak hours could soar to $40 per slot, shedding light on the exasperating difficulty many faced just to enjoy a round of golf.

Public Reaction and Community Impact

The confirmation of long-held suspicions about tee time brokering incited widespread outrage among the golfing community. Players from various backgrounds, including retirees, working-class individuals, and veterans who saw the city courses as affordable venues for exercise and relaxation, were particularly affected. Reported tensions have emerged among community members, reflecting broader societal issues. Some of the dominant brokers were reported to be Korean, selling mostly to fellow Koreans, which added a layer of complexity to the outcry.

Patrick MacFarlane, a member of the city’s golf advisory committee, likened the situation to a public resource being unfairly monopolized: "It’d be like if someone took over a public swimming pool and said there would be surge pricing," he commented, emphasizing the public good nature of city-run golf courses.

Internal Involvement

As the debate over the reservation system and its exploitation by brokers continued to unfold, questions about the possible involvement of LA City Golf Course staff began to surface. Allegations of insider assistance to brokers, whether through neglect or complicity, added a significant layer of concern among the golfing community, prompting calls for a thorough investigation.

Restoring Golfer Confidence: A Central Challenge

Throughout the discussions on the "Tech Caddie" podcast, a recurring theme emphasized by Kevin Fitzgerald and other stakeholders was the need to restore confidence in the Los Angeles golf community. Fitzgerald poignantly noted during his interview, "LA is considered to be the worst place in the United States to be a golfer due to the scarcity of available tee times compared to the demand." He went on to comment about the problem, overall. "This has undoubtedly shaken the confidence of our local golfers."

This statement underscores the gravity of the situation and the emotional toll it has taken on regular players who feel marginalized by the current reservation system. Fitzgerald’s insight into the community’s sentiment reflects a profound understanding of the issues at hand and the critical need for policy changes that not only address the practicalities of booking and brokering but also mend the trust that has been eroded over time.

Technological Solutions and Counter Opinions

In addition to exploring the root causes of the issue, the "Tech Caddie" podcast also highlighted innovative solutions being implemented elsewhere. Representatives from Golf Geek Software discussed their FairPlay Guardian system, which is used in Sacramento to prevent similar abuses. The system monitors booking activities and alerts staff to any fraudulent patterns, providing a proactive approach to maintaining the integrity of the booking process.

Furthermore, Matt Holder of Loop Golf appeared on the podcast to offer a different perspective, cautioning against solutions that might inadvertently penalize regular golfers while trying to curb the activities of brokers.

Kevin Fitzgerald suggested a strategic change in how tee times are "released" to the internet for booking could be part of the solution. He noted that brokers often cancel tee times and immediately rebook them under the names of their clients, typically in the early hours of the morning. Fitzgerald proposed that delaying the reavailability of canceled tee times could disrupt this pattern, posing a significant challenge to brokers' operations and potentially curtailing their ability to manipulate the system. Representatives from foreUP have shared with us their tee sheet includes this functionality.

Legal Actions and Class-Action Lawsuit

Amidst growing frustrations with the reservation system's inequities, the controversy progressed to legal actions. A class-action lawsuit has been filed by a group of local golfers who argue that the city's failure to control the brokerage system has directly undermined the value of the LA City Golf Player Cards. These cards, marketed as a benefit to local golfers for $25 a year, promise advance booking privileges—up to nine days ahead, compared to seven for non-cardholders. However, the lawsuit alleges that the rampant manipulation of tee times by brokers has made these benefits illusory, effectively disenfranchising cardholders and violating the city's commitment to fair access.

Represented by Lee Law Offices, the plaintiffs are seeking restitution for the diminished value of their Player Cards and are pushing for changes that ensure the system operates transparently and fairly. The legal challenge underscores the broader implications of the reservation system's flaws, highlighting how the city's oversight failures have not just inconvenienced golfers but breached a trust that is foundational to the public service they provide.

By launching this lawsuit, the affected golfers are not only seeking justice for themselves but are also advocating for systemic changes that would reinforce the integrity of public access to golf courses. This action exemplifies the community's resolve to hold the city accountable and to demand reforms that align with the principles of equity and accessibility inherent in municipal recreational services.

Official Response and Policy Changes

As the controversy unfolded, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, prompted by the social media uproar and subsequent media coverage, initiated an investigation. They partnered with the city attorney’s office and staff at NBC Sports Next for Golf, to address the issue. Amid mounting pressure, the city introduced a pilot program requiring a $10 non-refundable deposit to book a tee time, aiming to deter brokers by cutting into their profits. We had heard directly from the city this change will take place on April 16th, 2024 and indeed it did. The change, early on the morning of the 16th, included "Res. Fee" text in the booking engine. We felt this was incorrect and shared a video showing our question. Later in the day, we saw "Deposit" text replace "Res. Fee" but some confusion remained. The "Total" line in the booking engine shows the deposit and green fee added together, which we believe to be an error.

We had questions about the $10 deposit as it relates to telephone bookings. Here's our exchange with the team at Rancho Park:
Q: Are customers permitted to call the golf shop and reserve a tee time?
A: Yes, you will be connected to a 24-hour call center and you may make reservations over the phone.
Q: Thanks for the reply. Am I required to provide a credit card during the phone conversation?
A: Yes, a credit card is necessary for booking tee times.  Also for deposits starting on 4/16.

We had additional questions and we were assured by Rose Watson, Director of Public Information at City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks that we would have answers to the following questions in time for this article but the answers arrived a bit late. We've updated the below with answers from Los Angeles City Parks.

Q: Who's on the complete list of entities, people, brands, et al of approved tee time brokers or advertisers? For context, here's your language: "Brokering or advertising tee times for resale, without express written consent of the City of Los Angeles, Department of Recreation and Parks Golf Division, is strictly prohibited."
A: There are no approved tee time “brokers” but & are approved booking engines per our contract with GolfNow.

Q: What hour of the day is the hour with the most bookings?  For context, this is not about the hour of the day with the most starts but the hour that has the most completed reservation transactions.
A: All our 18 hole courses are booked at 100% capacity from sun-up to about 5:00 p.m. this time of year. [unfortunately, we weren't able to get a proper answer to this question]

Q: Please provide a complete list of "release groups" with the digital addresses connected to the release groups, specific to each of your golf courses and the tee time autoloads they have been using in 2024.

Q: What is the process for accepting credit card information by telephone for the LA City Golf Courses staff?
A: All tee times require a valid credit card to complete booking (online, with staff, or with 24 hour call center)

Q: Does the electronic tee sheet, used by LA City Golf, allow golf staff to book tee times more than 9 days in advance, while working with the tee sheet in the golf shop(s)?
A: It does allow them but it is forbidden for staff to do so and is monitored by course supervisors and senior staff.

Q: Has Rick experienced an increase in sales calls, over the last 2 months, from golf course tech vendors who would like to serve LA City Golf Courses?
A: We have received a couple of interested parties however we are still under our current contract.

Q: When was the last time LA City Golf changed golf course tech vendors, specific to tee sheet?
A: May 1, 2018, EZLinks/GolfNow went under contract with us. Contract ends 2028.

Q: Does the low participation in the petition on, calling for Rick's resignation, lead him to believe the public is supportive of Rick and want him to continue to lead the golf course division for LA City Parks and Recreation?
A: I wasn’t aware of any petition but happy to hear there is low participation!

Q: It's become more than obvious that LA City golf courses do not need added demand or exposure of their available tee times. Knowing this, why has Rick and/or the leaders in parks & rec., decided to pay to promote the LA City tee times across hundreds of tee time websites, other than the LA City golf course website(s)?
A: By contract, tee times are available on and (owned by GolfNow) 7 days in advance (as opposed to 9 for our Player Card holders). No other websites are booking our tee times. Open inventory is the same across all booking engines.

Impact of Policy Changes and Community Feedback

The introduction of a $10 non-refundable deposit for tee time reservations marked a significant shift in how the city of Los Angeles manages access to its public golf courses. Rick Reinschmidt, head of L.A.’s municipal golf division, expressed optimism about the new system during a parks commission meeting, noting that the deposit would significantly cut into a broker’s profit margins, making it less lucrative to engage in the resale of tee times.

Despite these intentions, the reaction among golfers has been mixed. Some welcomed the move, hoping it would restore fairness to a system perceived as exploitative. Others, like Stephen Berens, a long-time golfer and resident of Eagle Rock, voiced concerns that the deposit system, while well-meaning, did not address the fundamental issue of how brokers were able to secure favorable tee times in the first place. Berens explained his predicament of booking and cancelling multiple reservations, a common strategy among regular golfers to secure a desirable slot, which would now become costlier and less flexible under the new rules.

Analyzing the Effectiveness of the New Policies

Critics argue that while the deposit may deter some opportunistic brokers, it fails to tackle deeper systemic problems within the reservation platform and city management of the courses. The efficacy of the deposit in truly freeing up tee times remains to be seen, with some golfers fearing that the added financial burden could discourage casual and less affluent players from enjoying the city's courses.

Moreover, the policy's reception highlights a broader discontent with how public resources are allocated, suggesting a need for more transparent and equitable management practices. Golfers who spoke of the frustrating morning ritual of securing a tee time, illustrate the desperation many feel as they compete for limited spots that seem to vanish within seconds each day.

Future Outlook and Continued Advocacy

As the city monitors the impact of the new deposit system, further adjustments may be necessary to ensure that the policy does not inadvertently penalize regular golfers while trying to curb brokering activities. The golf community's ongoing engagement, as demonstrated by Fink's advocacy and public meetings, will be crucial in shaping a more inclusive approach.

Dave Fink's continued efforts, including selling #FreetheTee merchandise and organizing community gatherings, underscore a persistent demand for transparency and fairness in how Los Angeles manages its public golf courses. His actions, along with the vocal support of fellow golfers, signal a strong community resolve to hold city officials accountable and to push for policies that genuinely enhance public access to golf.


The tee time controversy in Los Angeles serves as a poignant example of the challenges and complexities involved in managing public recreational facilities. It highlights the need for policies that not only address immediate issues such as brokering but also foster a broader culture of fairness and accessibility. As the city moves forward, the lessons learned from this ordeal could inform future decisions that more effectively balance the needs of all Angelenos seeking to enjoy their public amenities.

In the ongoing debate surrounding tee time availability at Los Angeles city golf courses, a significant reflection point emerges. The current pricing is widely regarded as below market value, with many stakeholders believing that fees could be doubled without negatively impacting utilization rates. This underpricing has inadvertently created fertile ground for nefarious activities and price manipulation, highlighting a critical conflict between economic theory and the mission of municipal golf courses.

Economic principles suggest that when goods or services are priced significantly below their market value, it often leads to secondary markets and exploitative behaviors. In LA, the artificially low prices for tee times have not only made them highly coveted but also spurred a gray market where brokers profit by securing and reselling these times at higher rates. This phenomenon underscores a broader economic principle: when pricing does not reflect true market demand, it invariably opens the door to manipulation and exploitation, compromising fairness and accessibility in the process.

Yet, the core mission of municipal golf courses to provide affordable recreation adds a complex layer to this issue. This objective ensures that golf remains accessible to a diverse community, including retirees, working-class individuals, and those unable to afford private club memberships. This commitment to affordability is vital, promoting health, well-being, and social interaction within diverse communities. However, this noble goal conflicts with the economic realities of supply and demand, creating opportunities for exploitation as seen with the emergence of tee time brokers.

Balancing these conflicting forces—upholding the mission of affordable recreation while mitigating the negative impacts of underpricing—requires innovative solutions. City officials may consider moderately revising pricing strategies to align more closely with market values while maintaining lower rates than private venues. Additionally, implementing stronger regulatory measures to curb abusive practices and enhancing transparency and fairness in the reservation system can help. Through such measures, municipal golf courses can better fulfill their mission without fostering an environment ripe for exploitation, ultimately restoring equity and integrity within public access to these recreational facilities.

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