Should I join a private course?

So this thought hit me after the thread of playing a private course. I know private courses vary greatly in price and this isn’t a pissing contest of my club is more than yours, but I wanted to get some takes from a few members that have maybe made the leap from public to private. I am 30 so I know I can get some cost breaks due to age. I grew up at Eagle Oaks in NJ because my dad was a member for many years there but my parents now live half the year in FL and he wasn’t using it enough so he no longer has a private membership. I probably play 35 rounds a year at an average of $65 per round at various muni’s/semi private courses. A lot of the private’s near me waive the upfront cost to join for sub 40 year olds but still cost somewhere between 8-10k a year in dues. That often doesn’t include the food/drink minimum and if you play before 1pm a caddie is strongly encouraged which adds to the price per round. Add up all of the tips for shoe/club cleaning etc and I’m ballparking about 12k a year all in. I just can’t seem to justify the extra 9k or so in golf costs for nice showers and better food. I get there is a price for a golf community and tournaments and other fun stuff organized by the club but they often come with an up charge themselves. I’d love to get some opinions, thanks in advance!

In your case, with that cost spread, it’s never going to make sense when thought of on a cost per round kind of basis or analysis. It’s going to have to be a matter of how much you value the convenience, camaraderie, pace of play, amenities, etc. Another way to think of it is you could keep your current setup and add a trip to pinehurst and streamsong or Scotland every year and end up at the same outlay as joining a club.

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I’m currently considering joining a private club, which is why I started the other recent thread about questions that I should be asking.

For me, it’s about pace of play and course quality. I live in LA and it’s almost impossible to check both of those boxes on a public course. If I could pay $65 per round (or more, quite honestly) for a decent course and play in under 4-4.5 hours, I wouldn’t be considering a private membership.

I’m trying to avoid the cost formulas because I know that I would be paying a premium for private golf and I’m okay with that. It’s a bit frustrating having to pay a premium for the clubhouse, showers, restaurants, tennis courts, gym, etc. considering I have zero desire to use any of those things.

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Its very hard to justify - probably impossible - in monetary terms. public golf is ALWAYS going to win on price.

You have to decide if it’s “worth it” for you. It works out to be worth it for me mostly because my wife plays and because they include my nephew in our membership as if he was our son.

For me there is also a lot of value in the things like:

  • consistently good conditions
  • community of members that is fun and active (can always find a game)
  • intraclub and interclub tournament play

If my financial situation ever changed, I’d be willing to give up a lot of other things before I gave up my membership.

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I really like this idea of throwing in a trip for about the same number. I have thought about it but certainly would have to trick (I mean discuss) that idea with the wife. But as of now I think I lean in this direction than the private route.

Yeah in my area there are a few great county courses. The thing that made me rush over to a private course and inquire about price was one particular incident… it was a wet cold morning where no one should have been out but every 74 year old in the county showed up for their “exercise” and decided to shuffle around the course at an infuriating pace. On top of that the course cut the grass despite it being soaked out there to point where you lost your ball in the fairway because the clippings stuck to the ball covering it in grass. If more rounds were like that I’d pay 9k premium all day. But if I’m smart about when to play it’s not nearly as bad most days. Although pace of play is my biggest factor since tennis and pool don’t mean much to me.

I’ll echo the other comments that it never works on a cost per round basis.

I have been a member at my club for 16 years now I believe. I just wanted golf and I knew some of the guys so I did it. Now, this club is my second home, I love it and I can’t really picture not being a member there. My best friends aren’t just members there, I met them there. My wife and I vacation with friends from there. We party there. I joined the club for the golf and that’s all that attracted me but I’ve gotten way more from it than just the golf. I’ve seen lots of people come and go at my club, it seems like the guys who don’t stick around are the ones who never embraced the club beyond just playing golf. The guys who do stay will almost always say the same thing, they love the course but they stay for the people.

I guess my point is, if you’re thinking about joining any club, try and find one that you like their coulture as much as the course. If you just join for the golf, the grass will always be greener somewhere else (pun, I know). The buddies I have that do that are kind of golf member nomads, and that’s fine, but it’s not for me and I think they struggle with “value” way more than I ever have.

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Just making a little note in case any non-US members are reading this…

In the UK I would definitely recommend joining a club. I bounced around as a fancy free agent for years and thought it was great but 4 years ago joined my place. I too thought that I’d just be joining to play the same way I had up too that point, just on spec, on my own, paired up with randoms. I’m not hugely social and am a bit of a loner. But in those 4 years I’ve found a second home. I’m there all the time. I often get breakfast and shower, I have lunch, Sundays I go and take the family, I play 2/3 times a week in the club swindles and am very much a part of the club’s inner circle who are there all the time. I don’t do a lot of the big parties but I do Captains Day every year. I even work there a lot, taking my laptop down and just sitting in the bar.

I never thought before I joined that I’d end up that involved but it’s the non-golf stuff that caught me by surprise and I now really enjoy.

For any US people wondering why I made the comment at the top, it’s because in the UK club membership is about $1 - 1,250 a year. No bar minimums. No locker fees. No compulsory caddies. No joining fees. I honestly don’t know how anyone justifies the cost in the US.

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As a UK golfer, I think that just sounds absolutely crazy money.

Most UK golf members will be paying 10% of that. Ok, the house, lockers, restaurant areas may be no better than average in many cases, but golf is golf 1st and foremost whether you are bringing your own coffee and changing your shoes next to your car, or having someone towel dry your forehead after every shot, it’s about getting out and playing some golf with other like minded folks.

Personally I think the American golfer has to simply say NO to these kind of country clubs. Eventually they will have to reduce their prices and become accessible to the average golfer - albeit many may sell up to developers before then.

As you say, many are already struggling somewhat and reducing their fees and trying to encourage younger members.

It may be like trying to turn the Titanic as a business will always try and squeeze as much profit out of something, but golf should be accessible and affordable. Courses should be laid out for walking and there shouldn’t be additional expense of a caddy or cart - albeit I accept the hot weather makes this essential in many areas.

It would be good if more member run clubs could get off the ground and put a slow death to the country club in the states.

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The takeaway so far seems to be it depends on the city/country you reside within. It was an absolute no-brainer in my case. Living in Toronto, the cost of playing a decent public course is around $100-$125 unless you strictly book through GolfNow - however that limits the courses and tee times.

Certain private courses in the city are actually justifiable from an annual membership standpoint if you’re playing more than 50 rounds a year.

I too joined before turning 30, which allowed me to defer the $40k initiation fee. Quality of golf is incomparable, as is the atmosphere and friendships made. I put a high value on pace-of-play, and am more than willing to pay a bit more to avoid the 5+ hr rounds at the clublink courses in the area surrounding the city. The benefit of having the starter know you like to play quickly, and actively work you into the tee sheet AHEAD of an elderly 4some is huge.

One angle I have not yet read in the comments is the enjoyment of playing the same course throughout the year, and several years in a row. I have a spreadsheet to track my rounds, score per hole etc and enjoy changing my strategy to accommodate for things I would not have been able to figure out mid-round otherwise.

Also - reciprocal arrangements among private clubs. I have been to play some awesome courses while traveling for work thanks to the hookup from my club.

Just my random thoughts. Golf to me is a decompression from work, and if I leave the course frustrated from pace of play, quality of greens, cost/value etc, then something needs to change.

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I do pretty much book exclusively through GolfNow since my work schedule is very flexible. The hot deals are easy for me to work around. That being said the county courses which I carry a county card for are really excellent tracks. I like the thought of just one course though. I can’t improve for the life of me because I feel like I’m always guessing on where to miss or club selection. I go out and I shoot 86, period. That might be 43 43 or more likely 38 48 because I find some way to blow up. I think once my son, he is two now, can come with me to the course I’ll join somewhere so he can have fun playing in the junior clinics and make friends at the pool etc. I feel like this whole thread helped me realize it’s not if but just when should I join. I grew up playing private with my dad and had a fantastic time. I’d like to have the option to do the same with my kid unless he isn’t into golf GASP let’s not talk like that now…

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guy who founded the Golf Channel also founded GolfNow. It generates about 70% profit margins. He makes more money off that app then he did selling GolfChannel to NBC. PROFIT MACHINE!

Smart dude, I guess.

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Didn’t Palmer and Joe Gibbs found the Golf Channel? Don’t think either had any involvement in the founding of Golfnow.

this exactly. you can never justify a membership on a cost per rounds basis, it will never be close. to me personally the value of playing a quikc 6 holes after work, or 27 on the weekend or hanging out with my wife and son at the pool outweigh the costs.

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Wow that’s surprising that it’s as high as 70%. With advertising and those damn $5 booking fees I can see how just a little bit of volume would make this thing a cash machine. It just shows how much the courses want/need to fill the whole day worth of tee times. Which I thought would translate into private courses needing more revenue too but it seems like the model works better in the US going exclusive and expensive rather than volume. I guess that’s the whole point of going private though huh?

I could be wrong about some of the details, but my buddy who sold his company to NBC knows the guy who did GolfNow…and said he was the guy who sold the Golf Channel. My buddy’s company is software (SportsNgin) and runs around with them. So, maybe I have a few details wrong but the story right?

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for instance, the advertising was part of the buyout…he gets REALLY cheap ads on GC. And the value proposition was super easy. They got courses to give them the WORST tee times on the day, and filled them. 100% net margin to courses.

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I used to only play county courses in NJ up to about 2 years ago. At that time I decided to take the leap and join a private club. While the county courses were nice i was tied with all the slow rounds, inconsistent conditions, and lack of camaraderie or really any regular group to play with. At my club i can now pop in and out and play as much or as little as i like. I have a group of regular guys with so i can always find a match, and i play in the tournaments put on by our club and by GAP including inter club matches. Sure the showers are nice and the food is great, but I’ve also got a real sense of belonging and my family really enjoys it as well. I also cannot describe how amazing it is to pop in some nights and have the course to yourself (just so spiritual) or on the weekend being able to play sub 4 hour rounds.

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Yeah I don’t know for sure, aside from Arnie and Joe definitely founded GC and had sold entirely to NBC by 2003. GolfNow was founded by Brett Darrow, who sold to NBC five years after after Arnie and Joe were no longer involved with GC. Certainly possible Joe Gibbs could have been the money behind Brett Darrow/GolfNow though?

Bottom line though - GolfNow was definitely one of those things that happened that made a person say “why didn’t I think of that?”. Such a great idea executed to perfection - with winners on all sides - companys, courses, and golfers.

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same with my buddy’s company. He got over $300M for the first 2/3…I think when NBC finalizes the last bit, the total valuation will be over a billion.

Damn

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