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Private Clubs vs. Public - Advantages/Disadvantages

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Ive been a member at a couple private clubs, and i can tell you its a little different today due to the downturn of the overall golf industry. The ultra exclusive old money clubs still operate with the same MO they always have, but most private clubs today tend to want customers first. Alot of a socio-economic things that surround them are gone at many places. You can get golf only memberships for reasonable prices without huge equity buy-ins now. But there are some that offer the traditional country club experience too. Its up to what you want. 

For me the biggest advantage of being a member at a private club was just simply access. Being able to play whenever the hell i wanted to and be out in less than 5 hours. No dealing with the gaggle at the munis and public courses. I got along well with the other members but i wasn't really the biggest social butterfly. I was there for golf. Course conditions were usually better and matched the conditions i was playing in for many of my tournaments. 

The biggest drawback for me was (and i imagine many other former private club members) were the mandatory food and beverage fees. I hated the idea of being forced to spend my money to eat there. One of the clubs i was a member at had mandatory bi- monthly suit and tie dinners and that really pissed me off.

Like i said before, this isnt an issue at many private clubs today, but one of the biggest reasons i got out was that i turned 35 and was no longer eligible for junior memberships.  At a lot of private clubs, once you turn 35 you have to buy full equity share in the club. And i wasn't willing to shell out 50, 100k (or more) for that. 

I would say if money isnt an issue and you plan to play over 50 rounds a year, its worth it to get a non-equity golf only membership someplace. Just for the convienicene. And many private clubs have low reciprocals at other private clubs. I dont play that much golf any more, but if i did id probably still do a private golf-only membership. 

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I wish the munis here in Virginia were as busy and crowded as they apparently are in other parts of the US, louts or no louts. Most of the time (I play midweek, so can't speak to weekends), there are not many golfers and I'm one of the youngest people out there, by some margin (and I'm 42).

Some cities have their eyes on real estate and no longer paying to maintain dying courses they've decided no-one wants.

I've played some goat track munis, and some great ones; and I've played some goat track private courses, too.

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One of the things I hadn't seen mentioned here is location. When I was in Wisconsin, I looked at joining a private club. Then sat down and realized I'd have to pay my monthly dues, and F/B minimums during the winter months. While money may be no object, I just couldn't see spending money and getting minimal value from it. Also, once you get into the equity type of membership, and they need to build a new clubhouse, watch for the assessments.

 

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11 minutes ago, ScouseJohnny said:

I wish the munis here in Virginia were as busy and crowded as they apparently are in other parts of the US, louts or no louts. Most of the time (I play midweek, so can't speak to weekends), there are not many golfers and I'm one of the youngest people out there, by some margin (and I'm 42).

Some cities have their eyes on real estate and no longer paying to maintain dying courses they've decided no-one wants.

I've played some goat track munis, and some great ones; and I've played some goat track private courses, too.

You must not be in Northern VA, where I live.

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It's probably a more obvious thing for some people than it is others.

Like @ScouseJohnny, I simply don't feel very comfortable at country clubs. The couple times I've been invited to one, I was really impressed with the conditions, food, service, but sort of felt like I was trespassing the whole time. The idea of gouging a big divot out of their beautiful turf messed with my mind.

 The big thing to me is having the freedom to play multiple courses. I get sick to death of playing my home courses (and I'm really sick of them at the moment). No problem. I've got three other courses I can play on my city pass. For not much more, we've got a lot of very reasonable public courses in the surrounding area.

Golf, for me, will always begin with changing shoes in parking lot.

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MY reasons for continuing to play at a private club:

Conditions of the course are better than at most public courses

Access.  I can play pretty much when I want, and pace of play is pretty reasonable.  

Competitions:  A variety of tournament formats, from early-season scrambles to 36-hole stroke play, light and fun to pretty serious.  Interclub leagues provide a different kind of competition.

Friends:  Because we see the same people frequently, many of us have become good friends.  We play together, vacation together regularly, party together.  Most of my friends are members.

Downsides that don't really bother me:

Playing the same club regularly.  I've honestly never been bored playing at my course.  A few TST members have played here, they'll tell you that its fairly unique.  That may not always be good in everyone's eyes, but I enjoy it.  I also travel for golf regularly, and play interclub events (same league as @jsgolfer), so I get my chances on a variety of other courses.

Elitist attitude:  There may be a few snobs at my club, but VERY few.  We're a pretty welcoming and friendly group.  I really don't see much of that when playing some of the older, more expensive, more prestigious clubs, most people are just regular folks.

Cost:  My wife and I both play, and I believe the cost is pretty reasonable when we spread it over a combined 150 rounds or so each year.

 

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15 minutes ago, mcanadiens said:

It's probably a more obvious thing for some people than it is others.

Like @ScouseJohnny, I simply don't feel very comfortable at country clubs. The couple times I've been invited to one, I was really impressed with the conditions, food, service, but sort of felt like I was trespassing the whole time. The idea of gouging a big divot out of their beautiful turf messed with my mind.

 The big thing to me is having the freedom to play multiple courses. I get sick to death of playing my home courses (and I'm really sick of them at the moment). No problem. I've got three other courses I can play on my city pass. For not much more, we've got a lot of very reasonable public courses in the surrounding area.

Golf, for me, will always begin with changing shoes in parking lot.

I've only ever played 2 country clubs that didn't want you to change your shoes in the parking lot.  Both were very high end, but I've changed my shoes in the parking lot at my car at every other private course I've played.  Even Congressional didn't say anything about that.

10 minutes ago, DaveP043 said:

MY reasons for continuing to play at a private club:

Conditions of the course are better than at most public courses

Access.  I can play pretty much when I want, and pace of play is pretty reasonable.  

Competitions:  A variety of tournament formats, from early-season scrambles to 36-hole stroke play, light and fun to pretty serious.  Interclub leagues provide a different kind of competition.

Friends:  Because we see the same people frequently, many of us have become good friends.  We play together, vacation together regularly, party together.  Most of my friends are members.

Downsides that don't really bother me:

Playing the same club regularly.  I've honestly never been bored playing at my course.  A few TST members have played here, they'll tell you that its fairly unique.  That may not always be good in everyone's eyes, but I enjoy it.  I also travel for golf regularly, and play interclub events (same league as @jsgolfer), so I get my chances on a variety of other courses.

Elitist attitude:  There may be a few snobs at my club, but VERY few.  We're a pretty welcoming and friendly group.  I really don't see much of that when playing some of the older, more expensive, more prestigious clubs, most people are just regular folks.

Cost:  My wife and I both play, and I believe the cost is pretty reasonable when we spread it over a combined 150 rounds or so each year.

 

I used to think I would not enjoy playing the same course over and over, but doesn't bother me either.  And yes, Stoneleigh is unique to say the least.   :banana:

 

 

 

 

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10 minutes ago, jsgolfer said:

I've only ever played 2 country clubs that didn't want you to change your shoes in the parking lot.  Both were very high end, but I've changed my shoes in the parking lot at my car at every other private course I've played.  Even Congressional didn't say anything about that.

Hell, I’ve changed into shorts in the parking lot of my club... :-D 

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I do understand that not all private clubs are country clubs, but the OP seemed to be referencing the country club type course in his post, references to cigars and grill rooms and the like - which is why I focused on clubs I've been to that fit that model. I've played plenty of private golf courses that allow the public to show up and pay and play, without a member's invitation; I sometimes sense the members don't really like this, but they know the course needs the income.

Only time I ever got a bit disgruntled. Walking out to the first tee and the starter diplomatically ran over and discreetly whispered, in hushed tones, "Sir, I'm very sorry, you can't take that pull cart onto our course. We can't allow that." I asked, "Are pull carts not allowed?" He said, "They are, but the only permissible ones are the ones you rent from our pro shop."

OK, (shrug), so I'll go and rent a pull cart, and put mine back in the trunk. So I rented a Clicgear from the shop. It was identical to my Clicgear, except it was blue and mine's silver (and newer). Another slightly resentful mark on the negative side of the private club golf experience chalkboard...

Edited by ScouseJohnny

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2 hours ago, jsgolfer said:

I've only ever played 2 country clubs that didn't want you to change your shoes in the parking lot.  Both were very high end, but I've changed my shoes in the parking lot at my car at every other private course I've played.

I always check with the course's policies for dress and conduct and they'll usually say if they don't want you changing shoes in the parking lot. Metedeconk, for example, explicitly states no cell phone use on property, take off your hat indoors, and use the guest locker room to change into your shoes.

I haven't played at too many private clubs, but most of the ones I've been to have been pretty casual. Not muni casual, but not snobby at all.

2 hours ago, ScouseJohnny said:

Only time I ever got a bit disgruntled. Walking out to the first tee and the starter diplomatically ran over and discreetly whispered, in hushed tones, "Sir, I'm very sorry, you can't take that pull cart onto our course. We can't allow that." I asked, "Are pull carts not allowed?" He said, "They are, but the only permissible ones are the ones you rent from our pro shop."

OK, (shrug), so I'll go and rent a pull cart, and put mine back in the trunk. So I rented a Clicgear from the shop. It was identical to my Clicgear, except it was blue and mine's silver (and newer). Another slightly resentful mark on the negative side of the private club golf experience chalkboard...

I kind of feel like you have a chip on your shoulders about country clubs and perceived elitism. I don't see any issue with them only allowing their pull carts on the course. Some public courses don't allow walking at all and some don't allow you to ride. And if you happen to own your own golf cart, I doubt many places will allow you to use yours in lieu of theirs. It's just a policy they enforce, like dress code.

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Played essentially 2 public courses for 20 years, 9 holes a week ,with one buddy. His golf interest waned, so I joined a private club. Only golf, you can walk, and it's really 2 completely different setups, front and back. I joined a league, met many good guys, and now play about 36 holes a week. Nice practice ranges have enabled me to improve a lot. No waiting or backups, with pristine condition. Only a very few aholes, easily avoided . I guess it depends on how serious you are about the game. Personally, I should have done it years ago.

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3 hours ago, DaveP043 said:

MY reasons for continuing to play at a private club:

Conditions of the course are better than at most public courses

Access.  I can play pretty much when I want, and pace of play is pretty reasonable.  

Competitions:  A variety of tournament formats, from early-season scrambles to 36-hole stroke play, light and fun to pretty serious.  Interclub leagues provide a different kind of competition.

Friends:  Because we see the same people frequently, many of us have become good friends.  We play together, vacation together regularly, party together.  Most of my friends are members.

Downsides that don't really bother me:

Playing the same club regularly.  I've honestly never been bored playing at my course.  A few TST members have played here, they'll tell you that its fairly unique.  That may not always be good in everyone's eyes, but I enjoy it.  I also travel for golf regularly, and play interclub events (same league as @jsgolfer), so I get my chances on a variety of other courses.

Elitist attitude:  There may be a few snobs at my club, but VERY few.  We're a pretty welcoming and friendly group.  I really don't see much of that when playing some of the older, more expensive, more prestigious clubs, most people are just regular folks.

Cost:  My wife and I both play, and I believe the cost is pretty reasonable when we spread it over a combined 150 rounds or so each year.

 

I can obviously only speak for myself, but this has been basically my exact experience in my first year with a membership. I'll add that I have a golf-only membership, so it may not fit the exact country club aura being referenced, but it is likely similar.

We have four courses, varying in difficulty, but knowing that I will be able to play a course in pristine condition almost any time that I would want is a huge deal. Ultimately, I would golf almost anywhere, but not having to take a leap of faith on a course being a waste of money do to gimmicky setups or poor conditions is great, not to mention avoiding the trainwreck pace of play on weekends. The ability to play a few courses is nice, but even if we only played one or two the majority of the time, if you find the right place, I think each round can lend itself to a new experience.

Also, the people have been great. I was definitely worried that I most of my interactions would fit some cliche about the stuck up elitist golfer -- and there are some -- but the majority of people are good guys who like golf. Between some random pairings and our weekly golf league, I have really enjoyed meeting new people. Plus, as someone in grad school, there are some great networking opportunities built in.

Hope you figure out what works best for you.

Edited by BC-to-MI

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I agree with David In Fla. I've been a member of a private club for nearly 40 years. The reasons are convenience, easy access,  good course conditions, pace of play, and the availability of a good practice facility and teaching pros. I actually dropped out for three years (2000 until 2003)  and it was miserable. Although there are good public courses here, finding games and tee times was really difficult. It's true that most private clubs are expensive and one should not try to justify membership by a doing a cost per round analysis. My advice is to talk with members of the club you are considering if possible. They should be open to telling you all the positives and negatives of their club.  I'm betting that if you're an avid golfer and play once or twice weekly, you won't regret it. 

Edited by Hoganman1

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8 hours ago, billchao said:

I kind of feel like you have a chip on your shoulders about country clubs and perceived elitism. I don't see any issue with them only allowing their pull carts on the course. Some public courses don't allow walking at all and some don't allow you to ride. And if you happen to own your own golf cart, I doubt many places will allow you to use yours in lieu of theirs. It's just a policy they enforce, like dress code.

That's a fair point. I actually understand the rationale of the pull cart rule. They're trying to have a rule that prevents some guy trundling his 1980s $5 Goodwill pull cart around their course, but you can't write a rule for that; you can't write a rule that says, "Only these models of pull carts are acceptable." So, instead, you write a rule that says, "Only our pull carts are acceptable." I was just irritated because my (then brand new) pull cart was nicer than theirs!

Golf is a broad church. You can be a weekend hacker or a serious student of the game. You can be someone who measures the latest tech against spin rate figures using TrackMan, or someone who dresses up like a P.G. Wodehouse character, grabs their brassie, spoon, cleek and niblick, and plays hickory golf. You can play strokeplay, matchplay, Stableford, compete or not compete...it goes on and on.

You can enjoy the regimented environment of an expensive, private course, or play at the local muni. There is no right or wrong way, or better or worse golfer based upon their preferred venue. The courses you play tell you how good you are at the game. And you probably get a keener sense of that through variety.

It's not so much a chip on my shoulder, more that even in a broad church you can sometimes find yourself in the wrong communion, (a strange analogy for me as a lapsed Catholic turned longstanding atheist). Pick up a Pentecostal, drop them in a Catholic church, and even though they're a Christian, things might feel a bit weird and uncomfortable. They'll either adjust to it or they won't, and as a golfer I've never adjusted to expensive, private, golf courses.

The fact that the OP has to ask about belonging to a private club, with money not being the issue, and references to grill rooms he's not looking for, just made me wonder if they're the right venue for him, too. I simply wanted to point out that there's a lot of good golf to be found, in a diversity of venues.

 

Edited by ScouseJohnny

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Honestly there are so many semi-private clubs around here in nice condition I would not join a private club. The only time they are crowded is Saturday or Sunday morning. Compared to when I lived in NY they are never crowded and in so much better shape. I don't live in a city and never will so the access to nice courses is great and they are not expensive either. $30 or $40 gets you a lot around here to play golf. To put it in perspective, I make Tee times at 10 or 11 am on the weekend for a twosome and we never have been paired up with another. Played this past Sunday at 11am for $34 each with a cart and we had gaps with no players on some holes. I am not a club person, the only reason I would join one of these clubs if I made out better at the end of the year with the cost to golf.

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For me, it all depends on the culture of the club.   I belonged to a private club for several years and it was a struggle to enjoy it for long stretches almost entirely due to the membership.   Looking back and talking with several people who also left, largely their complaints might be about other things (food, course setup, conditions, etc) but ultimately there was a large percentage of the membership who felt overly entitled to being treated a certain way and it wasn't justifiable almost anywhere.   Beautiful course, but a large number of people who were very high on themselves and loved to put other people down.

 

I play now at a semi-private place and it's a much better experience.   While there were nice people in both clubs, there is a much higher percentage of good people to enjoy the game with.   The situation could easily be reversed and the private club could have been the better one, but ultimately that was my experience.

 

Try and find out what the culture of the place is before joining anywhere.   The people who worked at that private club hated a lot of the members and it really showed!

 

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In my case I´m member in a preatty affordable club, i use the course to practice so it doesn´t bother me to play it all year long. The key for that is that a cheap member club leave some extra cash to compete in Mid-Am Tournaments in really nice courses. There´s like 6..7 each year and other 2..3 Am tournaments that I could play also, all of them in the best courses here in Bs As Argentina. 
I can play in the club´s tournaments and also be part of something. Play with people i know every time, go to the pool, eat or have a shower after playing. Moreove if you are a good player you can be part of the club team and compete in tournaments against another clubs free of charge.   

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On 6/3/2019 at 9:59 AM, 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.

 

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.

We have a muni here and the condition of it is absolutely horrifying! Which is a shame as it's a pretty nice layout. No pushover. I played there a lot 50+ years ago when in high school. 2-3 days a week my Dad would drop me off on the way to work. I could play all day for a pittance, with enough money left over for a dog and a Coke at lunch. Then he'd pick me up on his way home. 

On 6/2/2019 at 10:07 PM, FLOG4 said:

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

No, we didn't. We weren't in their game. They offered and we declined. Good thing too, we'd have gotten our clocks cleaned! 

And I want to say something else about this particular country club. Many years later I was pouring at a wine tasting hosted by the club. The place was packed and I was busy all night. Someone finally came to give me a break and I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. I ran into another sales rep out there and we were talking. I looked around at the parking lot. Nothing but Caddies and Lincolns, Beamers and Mercedes, with the occasional 'Vette or Jag. 

I said, "Look at this parking lot! Yet all anybody asks me in there is what I have for 10 buck or less retail!" The other sales rep then made an interesting observation. He said, "Oh, you think these are rich people. No, no! These are poor people with money. They started out with nothing or very little, started a business, worked their asses off their whole lives, and are now comfortable. But there are only two things they will spend big money on, their homes and their cars." 

I found that very insightful. 

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