Golfers sue city of L.A., calling out failure to stop black market in tee times

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Five golfers filed a class-action lawsuit this week against the city of Los Angeles, alleging that officials failed to rein in a bustling black market in tee times at municipal golf courses.

In October, some of the golfers, who are members of an Asian American golfing group, shared evidence with L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks officials of brokers selling tee times on public courses, according to the lawsuit.

“To date, however, nothing has been done to prevent the illegal tee time bookings at LA City Golf Courses,” said the lawsuit, filed Thursday in L.A. Superior Court. “Nothing has been done to ensure the booking process is fair to all golfers who wish to play.”

The city Department of Recreation and Parks operates 12 golf courses of varying sizes, including seven 18-hole golf courses. Golf has surged in popularity in recent years, and L.A.’s courses — convenient and affordable — draw players who can’t (or won’t) pay the five- and six-figure initiation fees to gain entry to tony private country clubs.

But in recent years, a network of brokers, primarily in the Korean community, has managed to consistently grab desirable morning and afternoon tee times at the most sought-after municipal courses, like Rancho Park and Griffith Park.

The lawsuit accuses the city of L.A., which is the sole defendant, of a breach of implied contract and breach of public trust. It points to a membership program offered by the city known as the Player Card, which generates more than $600,000 in annual revenue for the golf program.

Members of the public can book tee times only seven days in advance. For about $25 a year, holders of the Player Card are allowed to book nine days ahead. Those over 60 are eligible for a senior Player Card, which confers a lower price for golf slots.

At city golf courses, a tee time typically costs around $35 per person, higher on weekends and holidays. The brokers reportedly charge up to $40 as a booking fee.

The golfers in the class-action suit allege that because of the prevalence of brokers, they have been unable to enjoy the privileges of Player Card membership. The golfers are asking for “the full refund” of Player Cards purchased during the relevant statute of limitations.

“As a result of LA City’s failure described herein, Player Cards have no value for the purposes of obtaining affordable tee times at LA City Golf Courses,” the lawsuit said.

A representative for the Department of Recreation and Parks did not immediately comment Friday morning on the suit. A spokesman for the City Attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit is Joseph Lee, president of SoCal Dream Golf Club, which draws members mostly from the Korean American community. Lee, who is Korean, has railed against the existence of brokers, and at a public meeting this week, he vowed to expose those behind the brokering system.

“I don’t want you to misunderstand us Koreans. Not all Koreans are doing this s—. We’re chasing them ’til the end, and we’ll keep you updated,” Lee said to cheers at the meeting.

Lee and another member of his golf club, Sonia Ahn, have raised the issue of brokers with Rick Reinschmidt, head of the city’s golf division, and their emails were excerpted in the lawsuit.

“I would like to report some brokers that are reselling the tee times for $30 or $40,” Ahn emailed on Oct. 12, explaining how brokers book “multiple tee times at the same time and [sell] it to people that were unable to book through la-city golf websites.

“I did book through them several times because I had no choice and I also have attached the proof of paying one of them through zelle,” Ahn added.

That day, Ahn shared contact info for two brokers with Reinschmidt. The next day, she gave the name, Venmo and contact information for a third broker.

“This is extremely helpful,” Reinschmidt replied. “I have already informed our tee time vendor and we’ve already started addressing all these accounts used in booking these original tee times.”

According to the lawsuit, Ahn shared more information about brokers through early November. Still, she and other golfers in the suit allege that nothing was done to address the issue.

The role of tee time brokers has been an open secret for years in Southern California, gaining heightened attention this month when Dave Fink, a golf teaching pro in Glendale, told his 200,000 Instagram followers about the black market in tee times.

“This is an issue that affects everybody who pays taxes in the city, and anybody who plays golf as well,” Fink said in an interview. “People have been really angry about this for a long time.”

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