Illustration: Ryan Snook

Par Value
Local duffers itching to hit the fairways after the long winter are in luck. Not only does Chicago boast more public golf courses than any other city in the country; it offers relative bargains as well. The median peak greens fee for 18 holes at local public courses is $46.

That’s higher than the national average of $34 but nowhere near the priciest-$135 in Las Vegas and $95 in Honolulu, according to the National Golf Foundation. Area income levels, local real-estate costs, and tourist dollars drive these fees, says Jim Kass, the foundation’s research director, with the highest found in cities with the priciest land values and the largest number of tourist golfers.

Tips for getting the most birdie for your buck? First, forgo the local private courses, where initiation fees can run from $20,000 to $100,000 and monthly dues add to the tab, says Pat Dorgan, a local golf pro. Instead, he says, check out the city-owned public courses, such as the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course on the North Side lakefront, or the South Side’s Jackson Park Golf Course, where daily fees can be as low as $16 a round. “Bring clubs, balls, and a little bit of money and get in line,” says Dorgan. Also check for incentives and discounts offered by local courses. “It’s a good time to be a golfer, particularly in areas with a lot of supply, like Chicago,” says Kass. It typically takes five hours to play 18 holes, so even at Chicago’s median peak price of $46, you’re paying only $9 an hour-“about the same as the cost to go bowling,” Kass says.

Most expensive public golf courses*   Least expensive public golf courses*
1. Las Vegas: $135   1. Minot, N.D.: $20
2. Honolulu: $95   2. Monroe, La.: $21.65
3. Palm Springs: $89   3. Glendive, Mont.: $21.75
4. Monterey-Salinas, Calif.: $75   4. Juneau, Alaska: $22
5. Bend, Ore.: $74   5. Meridian, Miss.: $22.50
25. Chicago: $46    
*Median peak greens fees for 18 holes, 2005
Source: National Golf Foundation

Draft Picks
Beer drinking is practically a civic pastime in Chicago-46 percent of local respondents, a touch more than the national average, said they’d had a beer in the past 30 days, according to a recent Scarborough Research survey. Despite the city’s blue-collar image, locals like to quaff the pricier stuff, with approximately 26 percent claiming to have drunk an imported beer in the past 30 days-well above the national average of 20 percent. The import figure may get a boost on St. Patrick’s Day. At Fadó Irish Pub in River North, for example, draft beers-80 percent of which are imports-typically make up 46 percent of sales, says Kieran Aherne, the general manager. But on St. Patrick’s Day the figure jumps to 52 percent. It’s no surprise what the favorite is: Guinness stout, which runs $5.50 for a 20-ounce pint.

Beer consumption, past 30 days*
Any beer
Any domestic light beer
Any domestic regular beer
Any microbrew
Any imported beer
Any nonalcoholic beer
*Source: Scarborough Research

Burning a Hole
Not only has it gotten tougher for smokers to find a public place to light up in Chicago, but they also get hit hard in the wallet. Chicago boasts the country’s third-highest cigarette taxes, with a combined city, county, and state tax of $2.66 a pack, pushing the average cost of a pack to about $5. Only smokers in New York City ($3) and Anchorage ($2.90) pay more cigarette taxes than do those in Chicago, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Also making the list is Evanston, with the country’s sixth-highest taxes, at $2.30 a pack. Generally speaking, smokers are taxed the least in the Southern tobacco-growing states, where state cigarette taxes are minimal and city and county taxes are nearly nonexistent. (The lowest average price for a pack of cigarettes is around $2.60, including a factory price of $2.22 and a federal tax of 39 cents.)