Getting into golf is fun and it can quickly become addictive. When I first started I would spend nearly all of my spare time at my local golf course, chipping, putting or playing as many holes as I could fit in.
As a junior, I was able to get a golf membership for a very low cost but as I got older and my playing time decreased, the price of joining a club became something I had to seriously consider. So is a golf club membership worth it? Let’s take a look at some of the factors you should be considering in this area.
What is included in a golf membership?
- Unlimited golf - most 5 and 7 day memberships will allow you to unlimited play without paying green fees. This will vary on how busy your club is.
- Official World Handicap System golf handicap - After submitting a predefined amount of qualifying cards you will be given a golf handicap.
- Access to competitions and social events - You can play in monthly medals and other events to win prizes.
- Use of country club/course practice facilities - Most golf courses will have a have at least a practice putting green, and many will have a driving range which you can use without incurring extra cost.
- Use of clubhouse facilities - This is includes access to the bar, restaurant and changing rooms. Also access to the resident PGA pro for lessons.
- Discounted rates in pro shop and bar - members are often given cheaper rates to encourage them to spend money at the club.
- Discounted rates and access to other golf courses - At Troon courses for example, you become a member of a rewards programme giving you access to Troon golf properties worldwide.
Sounds great right? Obviously all of the above comes at a cost which can vary massively depending on the quality and location of the golf club you want to join. So...
How much does a golf membership cost?
The average cost of a golf membership in the USA is between $1000-$5000.
Of course this amount will be different due to your location around the world and how memberships work where you are. At Augusta national for example, no one really knows how much it costs to join and maintain a membership, but it is estimated that the initiation fee is around $40,000 and the yearly dues are a few thousand dollars. This is great, but the there's the problem of actually being considered for membership. If you're not a past US president or business god, maybe lower your expectations.
The fact is that golf memberships have been declining in recent years so average golfers can usually get really good deals on golf membership. Check your home course and municipal courses to see what's on offer. Many courses won't have a waiting list and won't charge you an initiation fee.
If you are seriously considering a membership and want to work out if the monthly dues are worth it, here are few things to consider.
How much golf do you play?
To see if a golf membership is worth it from how many rounds you play to money paid perspective, we’re going to need to do some sums. Let’s assume the annual cost of a membership is $1000 (I’m not factoring initiation fees here for simplicity). If you play once a week that's 52 rounds, which is a cost of $19.20 per round. At a very basic level, if that amount is less than an average green fee and you’re playing that much golf then a membership is probably the best value way for you to play golf.
If you are only playing golf once or twice a month or less in the winter, then obviously this value metric decreases. To entice this type of player, many clubs will now offer associate member rates where you pay a low upfront fee and a discounted green fee every time you play. You will also get the benefits of being a full member such as being able to play in competitions, an official handicap and access to other amenities at the club.
Is a handicap important to you?
Getting and maintaining an official golf handicap through the World Handicap System (WHS) means that more than likely you’ll need to be a member of a golf club. You will need to play nominated handicap qualification rounds with another WHS holder before you are bonafide.
Once you have a handicap, you can play in club competitions and opens at other courses. It will also allow you to play at courses where there is a maximum handicap limit.
If having an official handicap isn’t that important to you then you might not see it as something which justifies the financial investment required for a golf membership.
Is social golf the thing for you? (Country club people)
Golf clubs are by definition places where people who share the same hobby gather and the social side of club membership can be a huge positive when considering joining a club. It’s pretty much a guaranteed way to make new friends and clubs will often offer many other social and special events outside of golf to their members. This is especially true in the US and Asia where the country club model is prevalent, and I’ve known people who spend all of their free time at their club. The golf course is also great for business networking opportunities, especially at exclusive clubs and private courses.
You can be a member of a club and still play on your own or with a limited group of people, but some would say that this goes against what being a member is all about. In my opinion it’s nice to have the option to pick and choose how involved you want to be so it’s best just to go with what feels natural to you.
Do you want to play the same course all the time?
If you’re making a sizeable financial commitment to play golf at a club, you had better like playing that course, and like playing it in all conditions. It’s worth playing a course when it’s meant to be at its worst to see if it is still golf you will be playing or some kind of mud wrestling. Ask around and see if other players know what the winter drainage is like, or if the course gets regular maintenance. I’m not a fan of winter greens and tees so I would always check to see if these are used at your course of choice.
I'd also check how easy it is to get a tee time at traditionally busy times. I've seen guys sitting on their iPad's weeks in advance waiting for tee times to be released at their clubs so they can get on the course when they want!
Playing at one club over and over can be a positive as it is the best way to bring down your handicap. Getting used to the grasses and knowing the lines to play is something which comes with many rounds over time and before you know it you will be slashing strokes from your game with ease.
It is also worth seeing if your course offers reciprocal arrangements with other clubs in the area, which could allow you to play free or heavily discounted golf at other courses. This practice is prevalent in the UK and in Europe so it’s a question worth asking when you’re doing your research.
Is your local course any good?
This might seem like a stupid question, but is your local course a good one to play and DO YOU LIKE PLAYING THERE. If the answer to either of these is no, then it might be worth expanding the radius of your search. I know guys who travel an hour either way to play at their home club, whereas some live 5 minutes away. It’s all about finding a course and club which suits you.
Other ways to play golf without being a golf club member
Being a member isn’t the only way to play golf regularly and on a budget. The rise of online booking apps and golf societies has changed the landscape of the game giving rise to “nomadic golfers” who aren’t attached to any one course.
If you're willing to play at odd times, either midweek or in the twilight hours, you can usually get really good deals on green fees. Apps like GolfNow sync up with golf course online booking systems and will often heavily discount certain times to attract visitors to clubs. Gone are the days where golfer who pay green fees were treated like second class citizens. Clubs are far more welcoming and often rely on this extra revenue to keep them going.
Once I’ve visited a club a few times, I will often ask the pro or whoever takes the fees if I can book with them direct so they don’t have to give online agents a fee. Usually most clubs are more than happy to match the discounted rate and I usually end up spending more in the bar as a result. It pays to ask and be friendly!
Join a golf society
I think societies are great and they can often be the perfect way to get that membership feeling without having to pay large dues and play the same course over and over. Societies will often have their own handicap system and set up competitions at selected public courses. It’s a great way to meet new people and see lots of new courses during the golf season. (And potentially save thousands of dollars!)
Get online or ask other golfers if they know of or take part in a society and get stuck in. They are always fun.