America. The land of opportunity … and also exploitation. Here you can be anything you want and make however much you can, often at the expense of ethics, morals and boundaries. Los Angeles golfers are learning this the hard way thanks to the emergence of a new and unsavory character, the tee time broker.

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According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, third-party buyers have been snapping up prime, affordable tee-times at municipal golf courses across Los Angeles and then charging premium booking fees, often with the best tee times going to those the brokers choose based on preference, much like landlords.

For years, local golfers have suspected something shady going on behind the scenes, but now L.A. teaching pro Dave Fink is pushing back, mobilizing his 203,000 Instagram followers in a movement he calls #FreeTheTee.

To confirm his suspicions, Fink and his buddies employed some old-fashioned Gonzo journalism. They went down to Griffith Park during peak Saturday tee time hours and asked around until they got someone to admit how they got their tee time.

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“There’s this guy, and the only way you can get in touch with him is through this Korean messaging app called Kakao,’” the golfer told Fink.

The story opened up another can of worms. Not only were black-market tee-time brokers not a figment of Fink’s imagination, they are also reselling tee-times with prejudice to their own ethnicity and culture.

In a list of available tee times Fink shared with his followers, the brokers had tee times available at Balboa Golf Course, Harding Golf Course and Hansen Dam. The prices ranged from $30 per person for non-peak tee times to $40 at peak. In 2021, these tee times averaged $20 per golfer.

“When the weekend comes around, and we want to … play golf and we can’t because the earliest tee time available is 4:30 in the afternoon, now you know why,” Fink told the Los Angeles Times.

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“This is a public good,” agreed Patrick MacFarlane, who serves on the L.A. golf advisory committee. “It’d be like if someone took over a public swimming pool and said there would be surge pricing.”

Public tee times for L.A. golf courses go live at 6 a.m. and are available nine days in advance. They are usually gone in seconds. Pricing typically runs around $35 for peak times and golfers that don’t land tee times online generally score one by waiting in line at the course for last-second cancellations. It’s a highly competitive process that has become more intense with each passing year and city officials acknowledge that the profiteers, a nasty open secret in the L.A. golf community, are only making matters worse.

“I know people are frustrated,” said Rose Watson, spokesperson for the recreation and parks department. “At the end of the day, it’s not right, it’s not fair.” She added that “the city is on top of it” but asked for “a little more patience.”

Whether or not Fink’s crusade will finally “Free the Tee” as he hopes, remains to be seen, but if you’re an L.A. golfer overpaying for illicit tee times and standing in line hours hoping to snag a cancellation, we’re rooting for you.

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