In recent years golf has continued to gain in popularity, and the number of new golfers joining golf and country clubs has steadily risen.
At GolfMonster, one of the questions and inquiries we frequently receive is from people looking for information on how to join golf clubs. Beginners, in particular, have very limited knowledge when it comes to signing up for a club membership.
Contrary to what people might think, joining a club can be quite a daunting task, particularly if you’re new to the game; questions like how much should I pay? and what type of membership should I get? are just two of the many questions we field.
So we thought it was time to dedicate an entire article to answer some of these questions. The aim is to make the experience of joining a golf club as stress-free as possible and to provide information that is not only practical but useful for all golfers.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced golfer, these questions will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of joining a golf club. Below are twenty essential questions to ask yourself and your club before you go burning a big fat hole in your wallet.
1. Are you joining a country club or a golf club?
This question is probably the most critical because the answer directly affects what type of membership you end up choosing. In the US, the terms “golf club” and “country club” are often used to describe a golf club; but are they really the same thing? The answer is no.
A country club will generally have numerous amenities and activities far beyond the golf course. More often than not, they have pools for family fun, tennis courts, large dining and entertainment areas, a gym and sauna, and a big social scene. The emphasis is on having a good time with family, friends, and business associates rather than just golf itself.
On the other hand, a golf club is exactly that; a golf club. Many golf clubs do have similar amenities to country clubs, but the vast majority do not, and to be honest, if you’re only there to play golf, you might not even care at all.
Still, it’s worth considering before you go spending your hard-earned cash on the wrong club.
2. Why are you joining a club?
Next up is understanding exactly why you’re joining either a golf or country club. By answering a few questions and considering a few factors, you’ll be one step closer to choosing the right club.
Factors to consider before choosing your membership
- Is golf your main priority?
- Is the membership only for you or your family too?
- Do you plan to network and make new business contacts?
- Do you plan on taking associates to the club?
- Are you after more than just a golf course?
It will only take 5 minutes, but answering these questions could save you time and money.
3. Equity or Non-Equity
In simple terms, clubs that are equity-owned are owned by the members. As with anything, there are benefits and disadvantages to being a member of an equity-owned club.
- For example, you’ll have the chance to be voted in as a board member and maybe even club president one day.
- The most notable benefit of an equity club is that you, as a member, have a significant say in where your money is being spent.
- It also allows you to air your grievances if you’re not happy about the club’s operating procedures.
- The downsides are you may have to pay for any course redevelopment or repairs out of your membership; this is usually done by increasing fees.
- Many clubs have a “one-in-one-out” membership policy, which basically means you can’t get out of your membership until a new member moves in. This is not a big problem unless your club is located in an area with a lower population.
Non-equity clubs are the polar opposite of equity clubs and are generally owned by large corporations. There are pros and cons with these types of clubs too.
- Not required to submit assessments
- No need to pay for repairs or new amenities
- No minimums for food and drinks
- You can cancel your membership at any time
- No voice on how your membership money is used
- Fees, rules, and regulations can be changed with little to no notice
- If your club is successful, you may end up subsidizing other clubs that conglomerates may own
- Tough to air grievances
- If you do resign, you’re probably unlikely to get your initiation fee refunded
It’s important to consider the above factors before making your decision; remember, both offer pros and cons; it’s just a matter of working out which is best for you.
4. Do you actually like the course?
Sounds obvious, right? You at least want to enjoy the course you’re joining because you’ll be playing it on a regular basis. Many golfers join their clubs because the membership fees are very affordable, and the club is reasonably close to where they live.
Before joining the club, make sure you play a few rounds in varying weather conditions if possible. Does the course suit your game style? There’s no use joining a club if you have a slice and every hole doglegs left; that’ll get old pretty quickly.
5. How well maintained is the course?
How well is your course maintained? To some golfers, having immaculately manicured fairways, lush clubhouse gardens, and velvet-like greens is paramount when deciding on which they choose. Alternatively, how well the course is maintained won’t register on other golfers’ radars.
For instance, the course I grew up on was not well maintained, but the course layout was good, that it was easy to be forgiven. If the course is not looked after, it might also signify the club being in some financial trouble, so it would be something to enquire about before signing up.
6. Walk, ride or caddy?
Fun fact; If you’re living in Japan, which you’re probably not, almost every course requires you to take a caddy and a cart. Luckily in the US, there’s a lot more flexibility when it comes to how you get around your course.
Generally, more exclusive clubs ask their members to walk; in this case, carts are either not allowed or limited to the cart paths. If you’re a golfer who loves to take the cart, you need to factor in the extra $50-$80 it will cost for each round. Some clubs include unlimited cart use as a part of their memberships which is a great benefit and something to look out for.
7. Does your club have a good reputation?
To some golfers, this can be a big deal; holding the status that they belong to an exclusive and well-known club floats their boat. The course I grew up on was very prominent, hosted professional tour events, and was the practice base for several pro golfers.
This was overwhelmingly a positive experience, but the one disadvantage was that the guest fees were quite exorbitant; this meant when I asked my friends to play a round, they had to decline more often than not.
Many exclusive clubs also have “sister clubs” worldwide, so if you travel a lot for work, this can be a huge benefit. The other advantage of having a club with a good reputation is that people travel from all over to play the course. This is a great way to meet other golfers and network with potential business associates.
Take your time considering your club’s reputation because, in my experience, it had a much more significant impact on my membership than I had initially thought.
8. How much is the initiation fee?
Membership initiation fees will vary greatly and depend on a number of different factors. The location of the club, the reputation, the exclusivity, and whether it’s an equity or non-equity club are factors that determine the initial fee.
The average price across the US is a little over $7,000 per annum with monthly fees of about $500, but again this will vary greatly.
9. Is there a payment plan available?
The vast majority of clubs offer various payment plans to help you pay off your membership fees over several years. Ensure you ask, though, and find out the exact payment details; the last thing you want is to sign up and soon realize you can’t make the monthly dues.
Luckily most golf clubs are very inclusive, and the committees do whatever they can to help prospective members sign up. For example, at first glance, my home club looked expensive and, quite frankly, out of my price range, but when I found out the club had several different payment plans, I was ecstatic to see I could actually afford it.
10. Does the club offer different types of membership?
Do you have a family? Will they also be playing? What about the kids? Finding out whether the club offers different types of memberships is probably one of the most, if not the most, critical factors to consider.
Does the club offer junior memberships? What about executive or senior memberships? Make sure to find out what, if any, restrictions apply to each of the specific memberships. Some restrictions that generally come with memberships are blackouts on tee times, limited guest passes, or limits on club tournament play.
Fortunately, most clubs understand that younger members are the future of the club, so they offer cheaper fees to entice them.
11. The Monthly dues are due
When it comes to monthly dues, they can vary greatly, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Generally though, as I stated earlier, most monthly dues are between $300-$500.
Make sure you enquire about how and when the fees are scheduled and whether members get a say in it. Equity and non-equity clubs differ significantly, so it pays, no pun intended, to thoroughly check the details before joining as a member.
12. Hidden or additional fees?
Does your prospective club have any hidden or additional monthly fees? Generally, golf clubs are very honest and transparent when it comes to their fee structure and what’s actually included in your membership. However, there can be hidden fees such as:
- Gym fees
- Carts fees
- Service charges
- Golf club storage fees and
- Practice facility fees
If these fees are included, they can quickly add up and a monthly payment you initially thought reasonable can now seem quite expensive. So do your due diligence and enquire about hidden or additional fees.
13. Are there any upcoming assessments?
Suppose you are considering joining a golf club owned by a large corporation. In that case, the chances of you being assessed a large amount of money to pay for big projects such as a new clubhouse, gym facilities, or other major amenities are actually quite high.
These “assessment fees” can be costly, sometimes in the 1000s of dollars, so it pays to check if the club has any upcoming assessments that could increase the price of your membership fee.
The second year after joining my club, they raised fees by $50 a month to help pay for the proposed clubhouse. This frustrated me, to say the least because I was told no major plans were in the pipeline when I joined the club. Make sure that you get it in writing if you are told no assessments are upcoming.
14. Booking tee times
How far in advance are you able to book tee times? Weekly? Monthly? Anytime? Booking tee times is an essential factor to consider, especially as most people are very busy and only have certain specific times when they get out to enjoy 18 holes.
If you plan on bringing business associates or guests to the club regularly, you’ll want to know you can book the appropriate tee time with confidence. The weekend time slots are snapped up instantly at my club, as are public holidays, so be sure to ask about how far ahead you can book before deciding on the club.
15. Does the club have food and drink minimums?
You might not be aware that many golf clubs and country clubs have food and drink minimums, which members are required to meet. Typically, these minimums are minor and set at between $50 and $150 per month.
However, you need to bear in mind that some clubs won’t include alcohol in the minimum as well as gratuities and taxes. If you’re a golfer who plays weekly, then meeting these minimums should be relatively easy; alternatively, if you only play once or twice a month, you might find yourself stuffing your face to meet the minimum.
16. Does your club have guest restrictions?
This is an area where golf clubs can vary greatly, and if you’re someone who loves to invite people to play, you’ll want to know the ins and outs of guest passes. Many clubs will put quite severe restrictions on how often you can invite guests to play.
Other restrictions include things like only being allowed to bring guests at certain times or days of the week, and some clubs won’t allow your spouse to host guests. The bottom line is this; if you’re planning on hosting guests anytime you like, you’re probably going to be in for a big shock; unless you’re the club president.
17. How much are guests charged?
Again as with the other fees we covered, guest fees will vary greatly from club to club, but generally, they’re in the range of between $50-$100. Although you’re not paying the guest fees, they significantly impact you, especially if you enjoy inviting friends or business associates to the club.
Take the time to consider guest fees because it can mean the difference between enjoying and introducing your friends to golf or playing 18 holes by yourself.
18. Family or spouse playing restrictions
Not often, but some clubs will have restrictions regarding how often family members or your spouse can play. Golf clubs are much stricter than country clubs regarding restrictions. Country clubs typically have relaxed rules in this regard because the emphasis is on enjoying time with family and friends.
Ensure you check with the potential club about the restrictions, and make sure your family and friends are fully aware of them; the last thing you want at your new club is a black strike next to your name.
19. Your club’s definition of family
Check with your club about what actually constitutes a family membership and find out precisely what you get with it. There’s bound to be different pricing for the different memberships, and if you plan on bringing your family to the club regularly, you’ll want to get a membership that gives the whole family bang for the buck.
20. Tee times?
Does your club have dedicated tee times, or can you simply call ahead and see if the course is clear? I’m lucky at my club because you can play pretty much whenever you like, providing there’s no competition or tournament taking place.