Golf Club Membership: Pros And Cons

Introduction

If you are relatively new to golf then one of the hardest decisions you might have to make is whether to join a golf club, closely followed by which one you should pick.

Depending upon where you live, you may not have a wide range of choices either because you don’t have many courses nearby or the ones that you do are beyond your means.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of membership and the types of facilities that you might be able to join.

Membership

For the majority of people, before you pony up that five-figure initiation fee you need to weigh up how often you are likely to play. If you have neither the time nor inclination to play more than once a week then becoming a member might prove quite costly.

According to the National Golf Foundation, the average green fee in the United States in 2020 was $61. Based on that if you played just once a week then you’re looking at $3000 per year in green fees. Obviously, this is going to vary depending on where you are and what time you play but you can see that someone wanting to play regular golf is likely to save quite a bit of money by joining.

If we assume that you are currently paying $50 per round at a course that would allow you to be a member for $2500 per year then you can see below how often you would need to play in order to be better off financially by joining.

Rounds per annumGreen FeesSaving as a member
10$500-$2000
30$1500-$1000
50$25000
70$3500$1000
90$4500$2000
110$5500$3000
130$6500$4000
150$7500$5000
Potential savings for an avid golfer

Of course, this presupposes you are happy to play the bulk of your golf at one course. If you prefer to play on a wide variety of different courses then membership may not be the best option for you.

Don’t forget to factor in the weather conditions where you live and how well the course drains. If you live in an area that has cold or wet winters you might not be able to play too much!

Besides the potential for saving money, there are many other benefits to becoming a member.

Pros

  • Unrestricted access to the golf course
  • Better quality course and likely to be in much better condition
  • Practice facilities
  • Gain an official handicap and play in regular competitions
  • Make new friendships
  • Somewhere to bring guests
  • Less crowded
  • Take part in matches against other local courses
  • Reciprocal courses, potentially worldwide
  • Prestige
  • Social Events

Cons

  • Can be expensive
  • Lacks variety
  • Rules

Unrestricted Access

Compared with playing at a public course being a member of a private or semi-private establishment means you will have almost unrestricted access to the course depending upon your type of membership.

People who have never been a member before may not realize just how often the course may be unavailable to them! They will run competitions either just internally or sometimes open to any entrant with a handicap. If you aren’t prepared to play in that particular competition then you aren’t going to be able to play while it is in progress. 

In order to generate additional revenue, many will allow businesses or golf societies to block book a number of tee times.

While you’re unlikely to get completely unlimited golf you should be able to play much more often than you ever would at a public facility.

Better Quality Course

Generally speaking, private courses are going to be in better condition than public courses because they have a greater budget for maintenance and usually have to cater to a smaller number of golfers.

Practice facilities

You’re much more likely to find practice facilities at a private rather than a public facility. They are also likely to be in better condition and easier to access.

Gain An Official Handicap

One of the big advantages of membership is being able to maintain a handicap and play in competitions.

Make New Friendships

The whole point of being a member of any sort of club is that you are able to associate with other people of a similar mind and with similar interests. Having joined a number down the years I would argue that finding one with “friendly” members is one of the most important factors especially if you are joining on your own.

Somewhere To Bring Guests

As a member you will be able to sign in guests at a reduced rate and even your non-golfing friends may be able to take advantage of the other facilities depending upon your level of membership.

Less Crowded

Another big advantage when compared with your typical public course.

Take part in matches against other local courses

Many if not most will play matches against other local clubs both home and away. This is both pro and con since you may be able to play another course for free if you are picked for the away match but obviously, you can’t play your own course during the home match unless you happen to be in the team.

Reciprocal Courses, potentially worldwide

Some clubs will have arrangements that allow their members access to other private clubs at preferential rates. In the UK for example many have agreements with other clubs that were formed in the same year or that share the same famous designer.

Prestige

For some people being a member of a golf club is seen as a leg up socially. This is probably less prevalent than in years gone by although is probably still relevant when talking about certain exclusive golf clubs.

Social Events

The majority of private clubs will organize a wide range of social activities for their members. These might include dinner dances and quiz nights for example.

Can Be Expensive 

Partly down to supply and demand and partly down to perceived or real exclusivity some clubs can be extremely expensive to join.

Lacks Variety

In my time as a membership secretary, this was one of the reasons cited by people who didn’t want to join. Feeling obliged to play the same course over and over again in order to justify the membership fee is what puts off many people from becoming a member.

Rules

Another favorite reason for not joining is the myriad of rules that private clubs enforce. Whether that be not changing on the car park or having to change from your golf attire to eat in the restaurant. Many people do not want those sorts of restrictions on their golf and social life.

Types Of Golf Club

The difference between a golf club and a country club is that a country club will have several other amenities available such as a pool, tennis etc.

Private Club

Strictly private clubs only allow members and possibly their guests access to the course and facilities. Much more prevalent in North America than in the UK for example.

Semi-Private Club

Still primarily based around their members they would still allow green fee visitors at certain times or on certain days. The majority of UK golf clubs would meet this description.

Public Course

Public courses are run for profit by trying to maximize green fee income although may still offer membership options. Large urban areas may have municipal-run courses which can offer golf at attractive rates.

cash
Cash is king they say!

Membership Costs

Initiation Fee

Private and semi-private clubs will often charge an initiation fee for new members. Some may consider it a way of keeping out the “riffraff”, while others might see it as your way of contributing to the long-term fabric of the club.

Depending on its prestige and whether they are actively seeking members you may find joining fees as low as a few hundred dollars up to several hundred thousand dollars. This also varies from country to country in the UK for instance many clubs had abolished joining fees in an effort to attract new members. The recent surge of interest in golf has meant a flood of new members for many clubs and therefore the ability to reintroduce a joining fee. Typically in the UK, you might see a joining fee equivalent to a year’s annual subscription.

More exclusive clubs are unlikely to advertise their fees but it is believed that The Bridge in Bridgehampton, NY has an initiation fee of $1 million.

Annual Fees

This is what you pay in order to access the facilities that your membership entitles you to. Used for the upkeep of the course and clubhouse. This could be as little as several hundred dollars a year to many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

It’s believed that Liberty National G.C., NJ has annual dues of $29,000. Some clubs don’t even have set fees they merely divide that year’s expenses by the number of members and present them with a bill. Obviously, if that’s the type of club you’re thinking of joining you will need to have very deep pockets.

It is possible to find relatively cheap golf in the US, a course in Florida for example is offering memberships for $2200 per year.

Food And Beverage

Many clubs will also expect you to spend a minimum amount on food & drink throughout the year. This might be anything from $20-$25 a month to several hundred dollars per month. In the UK a typical figure might be £50-£100 a year. Some years ago I played at Stoke Park and was amazed to discover their bar levy was £500 per year!

Additional Charges

While it will vary from club to club you will normally have to pay extra if you want a locker for club storage. Major projects such as replacing the irrigation system may mean an assessment for every member to pay additional fees to cover the cost.

buddies golfing
Buddies golfing

Golf Membership Types

Individual Membership

For the avid golfer looking to take their golfing life up a notch. There will tend to be different options at different clubs. You may find that in addition to a straightforward full membership offering seven-day access there may be slightly cheaper options such as five-day which only allows play from Monday to Friday. Country membership may be available for people living more than a certain distance from the club.

Some clubs now offer points-based membership where your annual fee gives you a set number of points. Rounds would “cost” a certain number of points depending on the day and time. If you use up your points you can just buy more.

For the golfer, this has the advantage of becoming a member with a lower upfront cost and less concern about a lack of variety. 

Couples Membership 

Ideal if you have a spouse that wishes to play golf since it will almost certainly be cheaper than buying two separate memberships.

Family Membership

For those with children that are interested in playing, a family membership might be the best option. A number of UK courses seem to be offering free golf to children of existing members.

Corporate Membership

For businesses looking for interesting ways to entertain existing or potential clients. Usually allows you a certain number of tee times every week.

Social Membership

For those only interested in accessing the social events and dining facilities of the club. Former playing members might take up his option is there no longer able to play golf. Those on the waiting list for membership might also be expected to take up social membership.

Golf Club Membership: Conclusion

Whilst not for everyone, on the whole, I think the benefits of membership outweigh the negatives. Assuming you play golf frequently enough to justify the cost then membership of your local private golf club could be the best money you ever spend.

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