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Joining a Country Club: Is It Worth It?

Published on 08/21/2023 · 9 min readNot sure if you want to join a country club? Golf Expert Adam Ditcher breaks down the decision and shares all of the important factors to consider.
Adam Ditcher, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Adam Ditcher

Photo by Richard Brutyo

One thing that new golfers may quickly notice in the sport as they pick it up is that there are plenty of welcome opportunities to upgrade your golf experience.

Tired of the clubs that you’re using? Every major brand offers years of models that you can switch to and purchase if you want to change your weapons of choice. Want to accessorize? You can upgrade your bag, golf gadgets, wardrobe, and training aids to try to get an edge in either style or practice. Do you think you could improve your game on a better course? Plenty of golf courses are available to play, and the variety in layout and challenge can help develop your game.

One major upgrade that people learn of, sometimes by trying to book tee times at any course on Google in their area, is the option to purchase a country club membership instead of joining a local public course or playing a variety of local public courses. There are many things to consider when deciding as to where you should purchase a golf membership, if that is the right option for you, and navigating all of the difficult specifics to end up at the right club for you.

In this scenario, it is assumed that your local country club is a private golf course, meaning that only members of the golf course are permitted access to play and practice at the facility, barring a tournament or the course’s rules permitting guests. For the sake of this article, I will use this private country club example to illustrate the difference between this and joining or playing public courses.

Is It Right for You?

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The first thing to consider is if joining any golf club is the right decision for you and your lifestyle. There are a few factors to this—the first being the cost of joining. The cost of joining any golf course, rather it's public or private, is generally substantial enough that it means you will be playing the vast majority of your golf at that course. For this reason, it is important to not only consider the amount of money you’re spending and if this membership can fit into your budget, but if you will be content to play so much of your golf at this particular course. Make sure that you join somewhere where you like to play golf. It seems cliche and silly to say, but it’s important you are happy with the membership you decide on.

Additionally, you should consider other factors about the course, such as the commute from the course to your home. If you plan on partaking in some drinks during or after your round, having a course that is an hour away from where you live can be problematic. You also may be more inclined to go practice or play nine holes after work if you’re within convenient proximity to the course you belong to. Most memberships come with unlimited golf, although some have restrictions, so having easy access to the course and being able to practice on the driving range, course, or putting green can make a difference in your game.

If you are becoming a country club member, you likely will also have to pay monthly dues or a minimum amount of money per month to the club. This is in addition to your regular yearly membership fee, which is sometimes referred to as an initiation fee for new members or annual membership dues for existing members. Many things can count towards dues, including clothing like golf shorts, shirts, slacks, and skirts, alcohol, bar snacks, lunches and dinners from the restaurant, lessons, and basically anything that pushes money into the club outside of typical membership cost. If you belong to an equity club, there is likely a higher level membership with higher annual dues you'll pay, but you'd receive partial ownership of the club and be contributing to your own wealth while paying monthly dues, compared to non-equity members who likely don't spend as much but also don't receive the rewards when the club thrives.

Public vs. Private Course Membership

Photo by Jason Pofahl

If you’ve decided that you can afford a membership fee and that you feel good about playing a lot of your golf at one course, then the next step is to decide if you want to join a public course or a private course. It is important to know that not every public course accepts members, so you need to confirm that memberships are available to the public for purchase if you decide to go with a public or semi-private course.

Semi-private courses generally reserve blocks of weekend tee times for members but then permit the public to play the remaining portion of the week and sometimes on less popular weekend tee times. Some municipal courses and other public courses that don't offer a traditional membership can still offer discounts, so be sure to check into what offerings courses around you have. Doing your homework on what category of membership each course in your area offers can only help your experience as a new member and maximize your perks while not demolishing your budget.

It’s also important to note that while joining a public course is generally available to anyone who can pay the cost, some semi-private courses and many private ones require some form of sponsorship from a current course member. This current member has to nominate you for potential membership, and some places will need to confirm your accessibility through a board that will review an application, possibly conduct interviews, and takes you through a process that may feel eerily similar to the last time you got a new job. I would highly recommend that no matter where you decide to join, you take the time to meet with someone who belongs to that course and plays there frequently. Their experience and knowledge will be an invaluable asset to your decision-making, and could easily lead to you a weekly Sunday morning tee time invitation.

So what exactly do you get from joining a private country club over a public or semi-private course? The first benefit is much easier access to tee times. Especially since I have moved from a more rural area to the City of Buffalo, it’s become apparent that getting a good weekend tee time at a public golf course is actually a difficult task. Demand is high, and the early planners who book a week or more ahead of time generally nail down all of the best weekend times at your local public course.

Public course rounds on the weekends can also take longer than four hours, and the pace of play can be an issue at different courses around the world. Generally, due to the limited access, private courses have a much better pace of play and can accommodate shorter lead tee times more effectively. They also often come with access to high-quality practice areas that are included within the club facilities. These courses can also come with caddie privileges, cart access, and other cost-effective benefits that you'd have to pay for each time you play a public golf round.

Private courses also often offer the opportunity to play other private courses on what is called reciprocal agreements. Each private course will reach agreements with a select number of other courses that members at each place can go to play the other a handful of times per year. It is definitely worth looking into what courses your potential new home course offers on a reciprocal basis, as this can allow you access to try courses that you otherwise likely may not get to play.

In addition, there are often multiple PGA professionals on staff at private courses to provide lessons should members find themselves struggling with their game. Some teaching professionals offer lessons to the general public, but often players who do not belong to a course have a more difficult time getting a private lesson when they need one than members who belong to a golf course with a PGA head professional.

Other Factors to Consider

Photo by  Andrew Anderson

Additionally, there are social benefits of joining a country club. Most clubs offer various social events, and can even offer social memberships that come with very limited golf access for those members who want access to the other amenities of the club. Many clubs come with access to other non-golf activities, such as a swimming pool, tennis courts, dining facilities, and a wide variety of other events and activities depending on the course. These partial memberships are often offered in addition to full memberships. Some private clubs offer junior membership for younger members, which helps reduce the average age of the club and provides easier access to younger potential members who may not have the annual income of an established club member.

Members can make new social connections, have business networking opportunities, make new friends, or otherwise leverage their membership in various aspects of life beyond golf. These types of opportunities are tough to try to quantify when considering private club membership but must be considered. Club members can feel like a member of the family and the whole family can take advantage of practice facilities, entertainment, dining, and other amenities. Family members and the benefits for your significant other or kids can be major as well and family membership is often discounted on a per-person basis compared to purchasing access for all family members across membership categories.

Again, it is worth seeing if you can try to access the club as a guest before joining to be sure you are comfortable with the other members, the culture of the club, and generally enjoy it beyond the golf course as well. Some places will even offer a trial membership for a set amount of time. You can also try to see if your golf buddies and you can play in golf tournaments at different courses to expand the courses you experience on a regular basis before committing to a membership somewhere.

If you have any questions or want to get geared up for your new membership, reach out to a Golf Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.

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