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Private Clubs vs. Public - Advantages/Disadvantages

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This is an odd topic, granted, but one I’ve been curious about both for my own edification and curiosity. The basic upshot is this; I’ve been thinking of joining a private golf club, but I’m hesitant, not necessarily over the cost, although that is a consideration, but whether or not I would be happy in the club environment. In short, I can afford it but I do like to get my money’s worth.

I’ve played at a number of private golf clubs over the years, either as a guest of a member or as part of an organized charitable outing and I’ve always been impressed with the club environment. In the area where I live the list of hoity-toity clubs where I’ve played is extensive, including Baltusrol & Canoe Brook, which are considered top shelf but not one of the ones that I would consider because of A: The up-front initiation costs for each running into 6 figures, and B – You need an introduction from, in the case of Baltusrol at least, eight members. (I only know one). I have been considering some of the lesser well-known but still classy places that don’t have the same initiation or annual costs as those first two. I like the idea of “the club”, a place to go and hang out, swim in the pool, work out in the exercise room, eat in the restaurant or grill room and play golf. The course maintenance I’ve experienced has been usually (but not always) impeccable. In addition, the locker rooms are nice, clean and comfy, the showers have no mold or mildew and you don’t have to change your shoes in the car. The big negative to me is you only play the same 18 holes (or in some cases 36) over and over and over again. To me, I think that would get really, really boring.

Currently I play at a “resort” type complex that has four 18-hole championship courses, two of them fairly highly rated, plus one 9-hole course.  I’m also registered in my county that has four more very nice places to play, all of which are managed by Billy Casper Golf. I consider all of these courses, both the resort and the county, at being more or less equal in their level of maintenance. They’re good when the climate is good. When it rains not enough or, like over the past couple of seasons, too much, things get dicey…they don’t drain well and some fairways have actually been lost due to mold or fungus and have had to be reseeded. And yes, at all these places I do change my shoes in the car. Also, they all have computerized reservation systems so getting a convenient tee-time for whenever I want to play is easy.  The big plus to me is I get to experience a very wide variety of golf course styles and architecture which I enjoy a great deal.

I’m well off financially but not a “hoity-toity” type of guy by any means.  I’m not a big socializer, I don’t need to make business contacts or impress clients, I don’t need a club house where I can smoke cigars and play cards but changing shoes in my car does kind of bug me. Also, my wife does not play golf and my kids are all grown and out of the house with families of their own. It’s just me.

So in conclusion, I’d like to open this up. For those who are members of a golf club, why are you a member, does it meet your personal, family or social needs, are you OK with playing on the same course repeatedly and most importantly, are you getting what you’re paying for? For those who, like me, are playing at places where you don’t need to be invited in order to get on the course, are you happy/satisfied, can deal with the whole shoes/car thing, OK with the quality of the golf course, the 4 ½ hour rounds on weekends, etc., etc.?   

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There are so many reasons why golfers join private clubs...and you likely receive all kinds of different opinions...only you'll know your own rationale.

I'm kind of thinking the private route is not for you...why?...because you're posting here to rationalize a decision.

I believe most members at privates know why they want to join and don't need others to influence their justification.

 

if you do join....I'd only join the clubs with immaculate conditions.

There are also reciprocals too...and you'll likely meet other members at private clubs.

Joining a private club is more expensive that one might think....I think many members spend well over their minimums on an annual basis.

 

Best wishes with your decision.

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Why such a big fuss about changing shoes in your car? Personally, that is really not an issue, and I would also change my shirt and/or my long pants into shorts if that made sense without hesitation. I don't need to anymore because I don't go from work to the golf course any longer: retirement has its benefits! :beer:

From what I gather from your post, you like the accoutrements of a private club, but you are not the private club type. I would stick to playing multiple higher-end courses like you are doing now: if you go often enough, they'll know you and treat you (almost) like at a private club... but you'll have to get over changing your shoes in the car, or simply drive to the course in spikeless shoes! :-P

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You are near Crystal...What course you thinking about? The very simple answer is as follows...If you went to college and joined a frat....You are a private club type. 2nd...Joining a private, you throw $ view out the window...It will never make sense for a single. Family with kids is great reason, place for the young ones to take up game and enjoy it. I love Ballyowen, Wild Turkey, Use to play Farmstead and Bowling Green way back when. I was a member at a private in CT for 12 years...When my kids were taking game up. Have not been for a while. I enjoy playing all over. 

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Funny correlation...frat type = golf club type. I wouldn't have thought of that but as a  matter of fact  I did pledge a fraternity in college, got into a knock-down drag out fist fight with the nazi-like pledge master, broke his nose and quit. I guess I'm NOT the country club type. And lately I've been driving to the course wearing my golf shoes.

I've been invited to play at another local club next week as a guest of a member. They're apparently trying to recruit new blood so I'll scope it out and see if it feels right for me.

 

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1 hour ago, FLOG4 said:

The very simple answer is as follows...If you went to college and joined a frat....You are a private club type.

This made me laugh. I told a friend (non-golfer) I was thinking about joining a club next year and said the exact same thing.


I'm looking to join a club myself. The biggest draw for me would be convenience. The place I'm looking at is 2 minutes from my house and I never see a lot of people playing. I could play nine after work every day and still have plenty of time to be with my kids. I'd save over an hour each round just from driving, which is pretty important to me. One of the reasons I don't play more golf is because the 9-hole course by me is usually busy in the afternoons so sometimes I can't play when it is convenient for me, and I'm not going to drive 45 minutes one way in traffic to play at my regular courses during the week. Plus, with a locker I wouldn't even have to stop home to change before playing. That saves a little bit of time, too.

I also don't have any golf friends that live near me, so that's another plus. Being paired up with random people gets old after a while. The familiarity and camaraderie would be nice. I imagine I'd also join tournaments with the club.

Conditions are another factor. I want to play at a course that's well taken care of. Munis can be hit or miss and the amount of play they get affects the course conditions. I don't mind paying extra to play at a nice course.

As far as the negatives, the obvious one is money. The club will cost more than I currently pay for golf, but I think I can justify it. I'm not bothered by food and beverage minimums because I dine out regularly as it is - might as well make it at the club.

Playing the same course a lot doesn't bother me. I actually prefer to be familiar with a course over trying new courses all the time. I always have the option of playing somewhere else.

The only real concern I have right now is whether the place I'm looking at is right for me and not just because it's the closest. There are two other clubs nearby, though not as close as this one, so I'll have to shop around a little. I'll have to contact them to get a tour, see if I can play a round or two to see if I like the course, etc. I'll probably get around to it during the summer once I get my finances sorted out.

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First, realize that you can never make a private club membership make fiscal sense.  You can always find cheaper golf out there. 

I belong to a club for the convenience, and because my club has two very good, distinctly different courses that are maintained in very good condition...generally much better condition than any other, even higher end public courses in the area.  Limited membership also means good pace of play.  It’s an unusual round that takes over 3:30, and under 3:00 isn’t uncommon for those that prefer to do so.  I also enjoy competitive golf, so I enjoy the many well run tournaments....stroke play, match play, and weekly Saturday shootouts.  I also play in our annual interclub matches each year where we play against other area and state-wide clubs.

Although I don’t care, there are other amenities available too.  Tennis, pools, fitness, and dining.  

The bottom line, although some clubs are enormously expensive, not all are, and although wealth is certainly relative, not all private club members are wealthy just because they belong to a private club.  It just means that they prioritize the somewhat esoteric benefits of that membership high enough in their life to make it worthwhile to them.

 

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I don’t need a club house where I can smoke cigars and play cards

Quote

I’m well off financially but not a “hoity-toity” type of guy by any means.

Quote

The big negative to me is you only play the same 18 holes (or in some cases 36) over and over and over again. To me, I think that would get really, really boring.

Don't join a country club. Spend your green fees on municipals and public courses that catch your eye. You'll encounter a variety of courses, and meet a variety of interesting people.

I confess, I'm a socialist. And I don't like country club golf.

Growing up back in England I learned three sports that are often associated with the wealthy, even though I grew up in a council house (public housing, in US lingo): golf, sailing, and fencing. I learned golf at the local muni from the pro teaching kids for 50p on Saturday mornings, I learned to sail an Enterprise on the local (council owned) marine lake, I learned to fence at the local leisure centre, taught by a retired British Army officer who had a passion for it and decided to start a club as a sort of public good. I still golf and sail; my knees are shot and I'm the wrong side of 40, so I can no longer fence. Sports like golf don't have to take place in a moneyed environment to be pleasurable, and nor should access to them be limited to the wealthy (which has nothing to do with your question, I concede).

Golf doesn't have to be a decidedly middle-class sport. I learned that in the UK playing good golfers on muni links courses. In the US, a man called Bill Hallberg wrote a book in the late '90s called the Soul of Golf that's a kind of Blue Highways of golf, which charts playing golf all over the country, on all kinds of courses. It's well worth the read.

Here in the US, I've played on military courses (where they are open to civilians), munis, private courses that allow the public to play, and country club courses on the few occasions I've been invited. The country club vibe is very different. You either like that world, or you don't. Unlike you I'm not well-off; just a humble college professor at a big state college, and country clubs feel weird to me. I accept that parking my 2008 LaCrosse next to a orthodontist's 2019 Escalade may contribute to such weird feelings. As do mandatory carts, and conversations about the stock market.

Your statements suggest you're not that drawn to private members' clubs, either. There's a lot of wonderful golf to be found away from such courses, and I have little faith in the idea that golf is played any more quickly on private courses than is the case on public courses. My point: from what you've said, I don't think you need to join a club to find what you're looking for. And there's a lot of golf to be played, elsewhere, for the price of a club's joining fee.

 

 

 

Edited by ScouseJohnny

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Some public courses also offer "memberships". I joined the course local to me as a "limited member" which means I can play all the golf I want from Monday to Friday for "free". This time of year the course is in great shape but, come summer, it will bake to concrete and, in the winter, there is lots of standing water. Fortunately, I'm not good enough for the course to be boring to me but I'm sure it would become boring quickly for someone with a low handicap. The membership was so inexpensive that I can go play other courses now and then without feeling like I wasted my membership dollars. Maybe next year I'll join a different public course but, for now, it works for me.

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27 minutes ago, ScouseJohnny said:

Don't join a country club. Spend your green fees on municipals and public courses that catch your eye. You'll encounter a variety of courses, and meet a variety of interesting people.

I confess, I'm a socialist. And I don't like country club golf.

Growing up back in England I learned three sports that are often associated with the wealthy, even though I grew up in a council house (public housing, in US lingo): golf, sailing, and fencing. I learned golf at the local muni from the pro teaching kids for 50p on Saturday mornings, I learned to sail an Enterprise on the local (council owned) marine lake, I learned to fence at the local leisure centre, taught by a retired British Army officer who had a passion for it and decided to start a club as a sort of public good. I still golf and sail; my knees are shot and I'm the wrong side of 40, so I can no longer fence. Sports like golf don't have to take place in a moneyed environment to be pleasurable, and nor should access to them be limited to the wealthy (which has nothing to do with your question, I concede).

Golf doesn't have to be a decidedly middle-class sport. I learned that in the UK playing good golfers on muni links courses. In the US, a man called Bill Hallberg wrote a book in the late '90s called the Soul of Golf that's a kind of Blue Highways of golf, which charts playing golf all over the country, on all kinds of courses. It's well worth the read.

Here in the US, I've played on military courses (where they are open to civilians), munis, private courses that allow the public to play, and country club courses on the few occasions I've been invited. The country club vibe is very different. You either like that world, or you don't. Unlike you I'm not well-off; just a humble college professor at a big state college, and country clubs feel weird to me. I accept that parking my 2008 LaCrosse next to a orthodontist's 2019 Escalade may contribute to such weird feelings. As do mandatory carts, and conversations about the stock market.

Your statements suggest you're not that drawn to private members' clubs, either. There's a lot of wonderful golf to be found away from such courses, and I have little faith in the idea that golf is played any more quickly on private courses than is the case on public courses. My point: from what you've said, I don't think you need to join a club to find what you're looking for. And there's a lot of golf to be played, elsewhere, for the price of a club's joining fee.

True, golf doesn't HAVE to take place in a moneyed environment, but there can be advantages to the experience. I am a public course golfer , but have had the opportunity to play at private clubs now and then. I've been really well taken care of at those places. Does anyone remember service? 

At one country club where I was invited to play by a member, not only was the course outstanding, but the service was first rate. At the end of the round we pulled up in our carts, and a young man asked me "Clean your clubs Sir?" I told him yes, and then spotted an older man in the area who seemed to be in charge. Being a stranger to country club life i approached him and asked if I should tip the young man. He told me no. These boys were paid for their work and no tipping was necessary. 

And let's not forget that at a private club you have a locker. You can shower after your round, change into fresh clothes, and go enjoy the bar or grill room without feeling all nasty! 

There are several things to recommend the private club experience. About the only drawback that I can imagine is if you ONLY play that course! That would bore me to death! I'm a believer that variety is the spice of life, and I couldn't imagine being consigned to one course for eternity. 

But, if you're well heeled enough to afford a private club membership, I figure you can play pretty much wherever you want. So, why not do that? Get a membership at a place you really like, play pretty much wherever you want to, and occasionally go home to be really well taken care of! 

Sounds like a dream to me! 

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Do you join a band or keep working on those Johnny Winter licks in your bedroom?  It depends on why you play and what you want out of it.  All the world is a stage.  What stage appeals to you?  Public is anonymous...private is front and center.  When you join a band you agree to take part.  Is that what you want to do?

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19 minutes ago, Piz said:

Do you join a band or keep working on those Johnny Winter licks in your bedroom?  It depends on why you play and what you want out of it.  All the world is a stage.  What stage appeals to you?  Public is anonymous...private is front and center.  When you join a band you agree to take part.  Is that what you want to do?

Mmmmmmmmmm! Good comment! For the round I referenced above, a group of guys approached our host and asked if we wanted to be in their "game". Our sponsor denied, as myself and another member of our foursome had never seen the course before! That was a good thing as there were no fewer than 3 holes in one on a short par 3! These dudes could golf! 

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30 minutes ago, Buckeyebowman said:

Mmmmmmmmmm! Good comment! For the round I referenced above, a group of guys approached our host and asked if we wanted to be in their "game". Our sponsor denied, as myself and another member of our foursome had never seen the course before! That was a good thing as there were no fewer than 3 holes in one on a short par 3! These dudes could golf!  

Ya must have gotten a free drink or two...

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At the end of the round we pulled up in our carts, and a young man asked me "Clean your clubs Sir?" I told him yes, and then spotted an older man in the area who seemed to be in charge. Being a stranger to country club life i approached him and asked if I should tip the young man. He told me no. These boys were paid for their work and no tipping was necessary. 

Not arguing with you, and I'm certainly not suggesting that not tipping was wrong - you respectfully asked and were told it wasn't needed.

I'm glad you brought this up - this is exactly the kind of situation that would make me squirm. If, like me, you're not comfortable with this type of scenario, it's probably best not to join a country club.

I'd rather take my clubs home dirty and wash them in a bucket in the backyard. I'm happy doing that.

I'd feel bad saying "No" to the young man (although I would end up doing that), but if I let him wash the clubs I'd have to give him $10, and then wonder if it ought to have been $20, which I don't want to spend. Country club people seem to instinctively know when to tip, and how much, and don't need to worry about the cost of handing out such tips. Perhaps they are also fully comfortable with the idea that membership comes with service - which seems reasonable. It's a different concept of service, though. I pay my mechanic to change my oil, and that's fine. This kind of service is different - someone is there to attend to you, because you are a paying member on the premises. Ugh. Makes my flesh crawl.

One of the worst moments I can recall: straight out of grad school I went for an interview at a university in the north-east. They paid for the flight, the hotel, all of which was fine. I told them I'd take the metro downtown to the hotel and the interview, but they insisted on sending a "black car" and a driver, also charged to their account. Poor guy drove me from the airport to the hotel, around campus next day, and then back to the airport. It was the end of the month, I was working part-time and had just finished grad school that month, and I was broke. As in broke. I had $50 in my wallet to get my car out of hock at airport parking when I arrived home, and the rest had to go in in the gas tank on the way back to my apartment. I was honest: as the "black car" driver opened the door for me, and I exited his car for the last time, I told him the truth. And he kind of mumbled, "That's OK, I understand," and stared at his shoes. And I felt like shit.

Friends who are restaurant servers tell me there should be a rule written on the doors of restaurants: "If you can't afford a minimum of 20% on top of your tab, then you're too poor to eat here. You should be dining at home."

The OP mentioned money wasn't an issue, but he also said he wasn't a "hoity-toity guy." I'm uncomfortable with people waiting on me, perhaps he is, too.

Public courses: pay your green fee, shove your clubs on your pull-cart, play your round, throw your gear back in your trunk and drive home. If you like that scenario, munis are the place to be!*

*and the one I play even has a shower in the men's changing room!

 

Edited by ScouseJohnny

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12 hours ago, billchao said:

This made me laugh. I told a friend (non-golfer) I was thinking about joining a club next year and said the exact same thing.


I'm looking to join a club myself. The biggest draw for me would be convenience. The place I'm looking at is 2 minutes from my house and I never see a lot of people playing. I could play nine after work every day and still have plenty of time to be with my kids. I'd save over an hour each round just from driving, which is pretty important to me. One of the reasons I don't play more golf is because the 9-hole course by me is usually busy in the afternoons so sometimes I can't play when it is convenient for me, and I'm not going to drive 45 minutes one way in traffic to play at my regular courses during the week. Plus, with a locker I wouldn't even have to stop home to change before playing. That saves a little bit of time, too.

I also don't have any golf friends that live near me, so that's another plus. Being paired up with random people gets old after a while. The familiarity and camaraderie would be nice. I imagine I'd also join tournaments with the club.

Conditions are another factor. I want to play at a course that's well taken care of. Munis can be hit or miss and the amount of play they get affects the course conditions. I don't mind paying extra to play at a nice course.

As far as the negatives, the obvious one is money. The club will cost more than I currently pay for golf, but I think I can justify it. I'm not bothered by food and beverage minimums because I dine out regularly as it is - might as well make it at the club.

Playing the same course a lot doesn't bother me. I actually prefer to be familiar with a course over trying new courses all the time. I always have the option of playing somewhere else.

The only real concern I have right now is whether the place I'm looking at is right for me and not just because it's the closest. There are two other clubs nearby, though not as close as this one, so I'll have to shop around a little. I'll have to contact them to get a tour, see if I can play a round or two to see if I like the course, etc. I'll probably get around to it during the summer once I get my finances sorted out.

This is why I would join one. But availability of a lower cost club near me is limited. Plus, I spend a lot of time in RI in the summer, so it would be a waste to join one here in the Boston area.

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I am not a member , I play munis and public. I have played a number of local private places, with members. The perks don't drive me: clean shoes, club storage, minimum monthly spending all the while dealing with the self proclaimed socially elite.

Like others have said, I'll change in public places. I even bring my own snacks.

I've a family friend who put down her $35M share membership and pays $6M a year for her family. She wanted clean shoes and was willing to pay for it. She is now trying to sell as she feels getting out ten times a year doesn't pay for it

I like that comment about frats

At the end of the day its your own priorities.

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54 minutes ago, uitar9 said:

The perks don't drive me: clean shoes, club storage, minimum monthly spending all the while dealing with the self proclaimed socially elite.

I've a family friend who put down her $35M share membership and pays $6M a year for her family. She wanted clean shoes and was willing to pay for it. She is now trying to sell as she feels getting out ten times a year doesn't pay for it

I like that comment about frats

 

Muni golf is only for those who are dirt poor and don’t mind playing on completely uninteresting dog tracks with horrible conditions, inconsiderate louts, 5+ hour rounds, and no amenities at all...

...Now that you likely realize how ridiculous that statement is, perhaps you’ll also understand how equally ridiculous it is to characterize all private clubs as the same.  You’ll find as many varieties of private clubs, and the people who play there, as you do public golf.  The misperception and inaccurate generalization is generally driven by very limited (or no) personal experience in the environment.

 

11 hours ago, ScouseJohnny said:

Public courses: pay your green fee, shove your clubs on your pull-cart, play your round, throw your gear back in your trunk and drive home. If you like that scenario, munis are the place to be!*

That is exactly how I play the vast majority of my golf at my club...

...well, except that I don’t even stop in the pro shop to pay a green fee.  I simply pay my bill at the end of the month.

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14 hours ago, David in FL said:

First, realize that you can never make a private club membership make fiscal sense.  You can always find cheaper golf out there. 

I belong to a club for the convenience, and because my club has two very good, distinctly different courses that are maintained in very good condition...generally much better condition than any other, even higher end public courses in the area.  Limited membership also means good pace of play.  It’s an unusual round that takes over 3:30, and under 3:00 isn’t uncommon for those that prefer to do so.  I also enjoy competitive golf, so I enjoy the many well run tournaments....stroke play, match play, and weekly Saturday shootouts.  I also play in our annual interclub matches each year where we play against other area and state-wide clubs.

Although I don’t care, there are other amenities available too.  Tennis, pools, fitness, and dining.  

The bottom line, although some clubs are enormously expensive, not all are, and although wealth is certainly relative, not all private club members are wealthy just because they belong to a private club.  It just means that they prioritize the somewhat esoteric benefits of that membership high enough in their life to make it worthwhile to them.

 

This is me to a tee and I'm not wealthy even in the slightest bit.  I prefer country clubs to muni's just for the conditions and pace of play alone.  Plus the weekly tournaments and interclub matches as David noted, are lots of fun and allow you to play many different golf courses.  Plus when my course is closed, they will get you on other country clubs in the area, so I have no issues playing other courses all year.  The course (Tom Fazio course) I'm a member at had no initiation fee, and is under $400/month and I have no monthly minimums for food.  

 

1 hour ago, uitar9 said:

I am not a member , I play munis and public. I have played a number of local private places, with members. The perks don't drive me: clean shoes, club storage, minimum monthly spending all the while dealing with the self proclaimed socially elite.

Like others have said, I'll change in public places. I even bring my own snacks.

I've a family friend who put down her $35M share membership and pays $6M a year for her family. She wanted clean shoes and was willing to pay for it. She is now trying to sell as she feels getting out ten times a year doesn't pay for it

I like that comment about frats

At the end of the day its your own priorities.

10 minutes ago, David in FL said:

Muni golf is only for those who are dirt poor and don’t mind playing on completely uninteresting dog tracks with horrible conditions, inconsiderate louts, 5+ hour rounds, and no amenities at all...

...Now that you likely realize how ridiculous that statement is, perhaps you’ll also understand how equally ridiculous it is to characterize all private clubs as the same.  You’ll find as many varieties of private clubs, and the people who play there, as you do public golf.  The misperception and inaccurate generalization is generally driven by very limited (or no) personal experience in the environment.

 

As David noted here as well, there are Country Clubs that are elitist and snobby, there are a couple in the DC area, but to characterize all like that is unfortunate.  As most courses I've played at are nothing like that and I've never had a bad time at any of the even so-called snobby courses.  You can get out of a country club anything you want, just play golf or have all of the other amenities.  But if you go into thinking it is a bargain, it is not.  And although he was being tongue and cheek, 5+ hour rounds on the weekends are very common in my area. 

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