If you just want to play golf, a private / country club isn't likely going to make financial sense for you.
Private clubs that I checked out here in NY range from $0 - $150,000 for initiation fees and $12,000 - $35,000 (they go higher) annual fees. These are full service private clubs with pool(s), tennis courts, beautiful golf courses, fine dining, gym, etc. I figured I'd have to play at least 300 rounds to cover the annual fees alone for most of the clubs I considered. Then there are quarterly food / beverage minimums ($400 - $1000), club storage fees, and most still charge some green fees and cart fees ($25 - $50) per round plus guest fees. Some clubs require member sponsorship and have a pretty painful new member evaluation process which definitely reeks of the snob factor.
A private club makes sense imo if;
- you want to have a place for the family to go while you play golf or practice
- want to develop new friendships and connections
- entertain business associates
- be part of a club where the people share your passion for golf
- want access to well maintained, challenging course, that is well managed, has available tee times, enforces pace of play rules
- want to be involved in tournaments and events.
I joined one that had $0 initiation fee late last season because I didn't want to be financially committed if private club membership didn't turn out to not be what I expected. I love the course but joined too late for any of the outings and tournaments so I'm looking forward to that this year. The food is excellent, and it's nice to take the family there on the weekend for brunch or dinner. It's also great for entertaining business associates and making connections so I'm hoping it will be a good investment for myself and the family. If at the end of the year I didn't get out of it what I expected or my family didn't enjoy it as much as they thought they would, we'll reconsider retaining the membership.
I'd suggest that anyone on the fence about joining a private club do some research on the private clubs in your area, compare costs, review membership requirements, demographics, tee time schedules, play the course a few times as a guest, eat in the restaurant in the evening to gain some familiarity of the membership demographics. I'd also suggest you pick one if it's your first time that has minimal initiation fees so you can walk away if country club life isn't for you.