Questions to ask a Private Club


#1

Long time listener, first time caller.

I’m exploring membership options at some of the private clubs in LA and I’m curious what questions I should be asking to ensure that I get all the information needed to make a knowledgeable decision. For example, I don’t want to join a club and then later find out that it’s impossible for a Junior Member to get an early tee time.

As a 27 year old with a “cool” job in the sports industry, I’m hoping that these clubs are looking for members like me, but I really have no idea how this process works. To provide some context, I grew up playing on muni tracks and I can count on one hand the number of rounds I’ve played on private courses.

When I inquire about membership opportunities, what questions should I be asking? Are the fees and dues negotiable?

Here is what I have thus far:

  • What are the different membership options?
  • What is the cost and cost structure for each option?
  • What’s the average pace of play?
  • How does the tee time or reservation system work?
  • Are playing privileges for immediate family members included?
  • Are guests passes provided to members?

#2

you also need to find out the joining process. lots of places are invite only, or you need a sponsor or 5 letters etc depending on the type of club you are looking to join. im assuming you mean los angeles and not lousiana?


#3

If you find a club where fees/dues are negotiable, just know you’re not getting the best price. I’ve never seen one. You might get a spiff guest pass (or passes) for joining, but again, I’ve never heard of guess passes being given to anyone on any routine basis.

Ask them what the median member spends per year junior/full/senior, that’s the best way to get a reasonable expectation of what you’ll spend.


#4

Thanks - I’ll be sure to ask about the joining process. Yes, I’m referring to Los Angeles.


#5

Thanks for the insight.


#6

In my experience clubs are: a) going to tell you what you want to hear when responding to your questions (“Our pace of play is great!” “If you have guests we’ll make sure you can get them out here.”) regardless of how true that is and/or b) the membership person you’re talking to may not know the ins and outs of the golf side of the club and thus won’t know the truth with golf-specific questions (I’ve found this to be more true at corporate owned clubs and/or clubs with multiple amenities with membership directors not focused solely on golf.).

I’d also consider how and when you like to play and make sure the club’s operations are consistent with your goals. A cautionary tale: the first club I joined was a large, corporate-owned, very social club that had all sorts of golf outings during the week. This would be great except for the fact that I typically try to play 1-2 quick rounds after work during the week by myself and these events made that impossible. One week there were twelve events on the four days the club was open during the work week - rendering my membership useless.

Long story short - grab a copy of the club calendar and make sure how the club operates is consistent with what you want out of a club and don’t necessarily rely on what the membership person tells you.

Similarly, grab a copy of the bylaws/club rules/etc. and understand the rules and restrictions, especially those for junior members, for yourself. Next, if possible, pick the brain of an existing member that will shoot straight with you so you can get real answers to your golf-specific questions such as pace of play, how strict the club actually is with junior member rules, etc. as in my experience as long as people in the golf shop like you and you’re not unreasonable they’ll be willing to work with you.

Probably goes without saying - but play the course and seriously think about whether you’ll be happy only playing one course for the foreseeable future.

Ask for a summary of all fees that will be charged, including service fees on all purchases, tipping policy, assessment policy (if any for junior members), food minimums, cart fees, locker fees, monthly “newsletter charges”, staff holiday bonuses, etc. and factor that in to your budget.

Another random piece of advice based on experience - make sure they haven’t just sold two holes of the golf course and the practice area to a neighboring hospital in exchange for the hospital promising not to develop the property in the next couple of years and then failing to tell you about it when joining the club. In all seriousness - be sure to ask whether there are any projects coming up soon - would suck to join and then two months later have the course redo its greens for four months or something like that.


#8

Appreciate the feedback - this is very helpful.

Being told what I want to hear is a huge concern. Hopefully I can find some members that will shoot me straight and fact check some of the canned responses that I’ll surely receive.


#9

essentially, there is no “set of questions” because so many clubs are so different. That said, keep building this list, and ask. You don’t want to find out AFTER.

one more for your list: get a history of assessments, and ask if any are planned. Tim’s question about availability is important, but the projects that they ask you to pay for cost dough as well.


#10

As a member of a private club I echo all of what @timshel said.

The average age of members at my club is 66(!) so it’d be worth asking about how many younger members they have, and what the social scene is like as far as they’re concerned. All very well to belong to a private club with a wonderful golf course, but if there’s only half a dozen guys under 40 then you may want to reconsider.

Definitely get hold of the calendar, both for maintenance purposes and for events. This year, I finish work on the 14th December and was looking forward to a solid week of golf before my partner finishes on the 21st. Lo and behold, they’re doing large tine coring starting on the 16th. We also have several events where your status for entries depends on the length of time you’ve been a member.

Are there any expectations that members participate in weekday events, or help out around the course? Mine is always calling for volunteers for various activities on weekdays, so you want to make sure if that’s the case, that not being able to attend due to work or whatnot won’t adversely affect your standing.

Good luck!


#11

I grew up lower middle class and the club thing intimidated me. An acquaintance convinced me to take a look at his place. I just went through this process year before last and for sure get the whole:

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I’d say that you’re at least going to need some letters from current members to join a place. You can make a membership inquiry with the membership director as your first step. They’ll ask you if you know any current members and the chiller clubs won’t care if you do or don’t (at most places, it’s easier if you do, but not a deal breaker). Often, they will give you a tour and probably arrange a drink (sometimes a potential member/new member social of some kind) or a round with a member or two to break the ice, give you a taste of the course, and start the process of getting letters from current members. Overall, just be cool. I was self-conscious myself because I didn’t come from the #clublife world. Don’t get caught up in a “pleaseeeee let me innnnn” mindset. They likely want your money just as much as you want access. The club model is dying a bit and younger members are definitely something clubs are looking for.

All of the technical pricing and structure stuff is probably best for the membership person. The fees and dues are not going to be negotiable (I’ve never heard of that). Definitely ask about Junior restrictions, policies on immediate family and guest access to the club/the course/the pool etc., food and drink minimums, important club policies, events both golf and social they have throughout the year, length of the golf season/any shutdowns, miscellaneous fees (range, locker, tournaments, handicap, etc - at some places some of these are included, at others they are additional). A lot of the general info on fees and structure will likely just be in a pamphlet they’ll hand you.

Anyway, hope this helps. Good luck, man!


#12

This is great. Thanks for sharing your experience.

The letters shouldn’t be an issue as I know members at most of the clubs that I would consider. I’m definitely not caught up in the “please let me in” mindset - I tend to skew too far in the other direction (they need me more than I need them), but that perspective changes when I play a 6 hour round on a public course.

Having a drink with someone as part of the on-boarding process is totally fine, but I have zero interest any of the social events. I’m not looking for a pool, a restaurant, a gym, a group of friends, or a place to play cards - the only two things that I have interest in are the golf course and the practice range. I’m hoping this won’t be viewed as an insult towards the club, but I get the feeling that it might be.

Did you end up joining the club that you took a look at? If so, are you glad that you did?


#13

I would add to the conversation and ask what the assessments have been in the past couple years. This goes beyond initiation fees and gets down to how the club is financially operating. I would hate for you to join a club that seemed a good deal and then they stick you with a huge assessment at the end of the fiscal year becasuse the club is losing money.
Another question that is often overlooked is food and beverage minimums? What are they?
Lastly I would ask to play and try and get paired up with some members, pick there brains for info a and don’t forget tip the bag guys. There also a valuable resource for the real information.

Good luck,


#14

Going along with the financial health side of things, I would ask to read the BoD minutes and take a look at the financials, trust but verify. Especially if the club has a large initiation fee that is going to lock you into said club for the foreseeable future.


#15

I did the same thing recently (not in LA), and most of the financial questions will be answered in the membership packet that you should get when you visit. Apart from what others listed above, I was sure to ask whether people usually walk or ride, and what the rough breakdown was. I generally like to walk, but don’t want to be the only person walking when 99.9% of guys take a cart for every round. I was also sure to ask about the various leagues, tournaments, and potential interclub matches since getting back into some more competitive golf was also important to me. It’s also good to know if the big men’s league is on a certain day, but your schedule doesn’t work with that.

Lastly, I was sure to ask about closures for various events and what changes they have planned for the course. One track I was looking at usually hosts US Am/Open/Mid-Am/Senior Open qualifiers each year, and was doing some tree management at the USGA’s request. These events will close the course, but I tend to view hosting high school/college/USGA events a little bit differently than a corporate scramble since there’s actual #GrowTheGame benefits to them.


#16

Yep and it’s definitely worth it. My wife likes the pool and we both like a good dinner, but we are in the exact same boat as you - we don’t do any of the social events, and we joined almost entirely for golf purposes. I can’t stand someone playing into me on the course. It drives me nuts and makes my wife miserable, who’s an admittedly slow golfer. For the low traffic alone, it’s totally worth it.

My favorite part is playing a twilight round. It’s amazing. It’s perfection. There’s no one ever around at my place after 330p. I’m not sure it’ll be the same where you end up, but I hope it is. Having a course to yourself is fucking spiritual. It’s the purest, most relaxing golf experience I’ve ever had. Just a stick, a ball, and a piece of land to slap it around on. I didn’t realize how badly I needed something like that until I had it. I’ll never go back.


#17

Same here.

I play 3-4 events a year, don’t get involved in much of the off-course stuff, and haven’t ever used the pool or tennis courts.
I can get on more or less whenever I want, the busiest time of week is Saturday morning and even then, we’re moaning if a round takes over four hours.
There’s 27 holes - nine of which are so quiet you can essentially use them as a practice course - and l can’t echo your twilight comments enough. My place is equally as deserted and I fall more in love with golf every time I get out at that time of day.


#18

I better look closer at the threads already posted. I just started a thread that is basically the exact same question. Awesome answers here already. I’ll see if the NLU guys approve my thread as well if it’s different enough. Would love to hear your thoughts on Should I Join a Private course thread if it gets approved.


#19

Be sure to ask about guest rates and any limitations on when you can tee off with them. It’s fun to take your buddies out for a day, until the bill comes. Knowing what those rates & limitations will help prepare you for what kinda hit you may take on days like that. I’d also ask if there is a family rate that is different than the guest rate.

Also, if you plan on bringing family and/or your best buds, ask if there are any limits on how many times they can play each year.

My first couple of years I played mainly with my (non member) family and friends, until I made some new friends who are also members. Nowadays I mainly just play the competitive stuff.

In my experience, initiation fees can be negotiated, especially during the off season. Dues usually can’t. But, they usually pro rate your dues (and assessments if applicable – there always seems to be one per year) until you’re 40/41 or so.

Other than that, I’d ask about the social stuff that’s not club sponsored. There were like 50 of us that all got together and watched The Match and played cards and stuff. Was a blast.

Good luck.


#20

Since you are looking in the LA area (I’m in OC) there are a couple of things you may want to also lookout for. How are assessments handled and are they applied to junior members equally. The equity clubs in OC can have some very significant assessments that allow for payments and some require lump some payment.

Probably want to understand the cost beyond the cost. Most club events in the area have additional fees beyond the membership dues. If you plan to play in their tournaments and be involved in the club how much are the extras.

F&B can also be quite different at different clubs. One local club allows you to spend unused F&B money at their wine night, ordering cases of wine from their distributors which is much better then use it or lose it.

Finally if you are in any way planning to write some of this off because you want to take work clients etc, talk to a tax professional and if the club is equity membership, and some OC courses are $250k+ in equity talk to your attorney about ensuring the membership doesn’t end up in probate if the worst happens.

Good luck


#21

Interested to learn more about what’s become of this. I am on the board of my private equity club. We very, very much are pumped to get young executives on board (under 40 at our Club), so with a good job and decent demeanor, I would expect you to be desirable to the Club. I’m assuming you are not looking at LACC or Bel Air. . .

There’s lots of good stuff above that I won’t repeat, but I would ask about the history of assessments (you may not be subject to them but you want to understand), what deferred maintenance there is, what the last several members who joined paid by way of initiation fees, and ask to see the financial statements. You’ll need to understand what the conversion process is as you reach full membership.

I think the big thing is to get a feel for the culture. I joined my first private equity club about 15 years ago and the culture was definitely disappointing. I met only a few people and never really felt like I belonged. I had to quit golf for several years and joined my new club about 4 years ago. But by then I knew many members (30+) and it has been an entirely more enjoyable experience.

Good luck!