July 17, 2019

How many rounds do you play in a year?  Would you like to become a better golfer?  

These are two very important questions to ask yourself.  Your answers will help determine whether you should join a country club.  Yes, that’s right, a country club.  If the number of rounds you play exceeds 20 and you truly want to lower your handicap, then you should consider joining a country club.

Wait.  I’m not the type to join a country club, don’t you have to be a multi-millionaire or part of an elite social circle?  Don’t you have to be an amazing golfer too?  Isn’t there a waiting list and a $100,000 entrance fee?  No, no, no, and no.  This is the misconception most recreational golfers and the general public have regarding country clubs.  This article will help debunk some of these myths while explaining the many benefits of club membership.

In the early days of country clubs (1900-1930) very few people played the game and/or had the discretionary income to join a club.  This perhaps is where the myth began, that clubs were exclusively designed for the wealthy.  Sure, back then, this may very well have been the case.  As our population grew, household income increased, and media coverage expanded, golf became more mainstream.  By the 1960’s golf had become a common game/sport like that of baseball and football.  Golf courses and country clubs were popping up across the country and with it, the number of golfers grew exponentially.  Now you can find a country club in just about every town.      

Let’s tackle the first myth.  Country clubs are reserved exclusively for the wealthy.

As mentioned earlier, this was a relative fact back in the day.  Today however, country clubs are much more inclusive and welcome anyone to join their community.  Most clubs now offer trial memberships for prospective members to enjoy the golf course(s) and the numerous amenities prior to committing to a full membership.  Each club has a different trial member format but the common offering is zero entrance fee in exchange for monthly dues for a period no greater than three years at which point a decision must be made to join as a full member or part ways.  So what are you looking at for monthly dues?  Again, these will vary, but typically around $400 per month.  Included in this fee is unlimited golf, club storage, locker rooms, gym, dining, lounge, and much more.

Let’s do the math.  If your average round costs $80 and you play roughly once per week, it makes sense & saves cents to join a club.  Now start thinking about your average cost per stroke.  If your score is typically 88 and you play four times per month at $80 per round, you’re looking at $0.90 per stroke (($80X4)/(88X4)) on the public circuit.  Now picture yourself as a club member.  Wrap that sweater around your neck and put on your penny loafers!  You’re playing more golf (because it’s unlimited) so your number of rounds increases to 8 per month but at the same time you lower your handicap by a couple strokes.  So now your average cost per stroke is $0.58 (($400)/(86X8)).  Not only have you become a better golfer but you’ve almost cut your cost per stroke in half!  I think you get the picture.  

Sure, $0.58 per stroke sounds great but when you factor in other amenities such as practice facilities (driving range & short-game), dining, and gym, that cost per stroke might actually be closer to $0.40.  What did you get again for $80 at the public courses you play?  Ahhh right, a pencil and a scorecard.  

So what do you think?  Does this sound like millionaire math?  Seems to me that this is a simple business decision.  Join a country club – become a better golfer & save money!  How’s that for a myth busted?

Okay, so let’s figure out the math when your three-year trial period ends and you decide to join as a full member.  Dues are the same but now you have to cough up the entrance fee.  Again, this fee will vary drastically from club-to-club but let’s go ahead and say the average entrance fee for conversation purposes is $20,000.  Now that’s a lot of money to anyone regardless of your tax bracket.  This now leads into another myth, that an entrance fee must be paid upfront.  

Again, let’s think like a millionaire.  So if you can earn 4% on your capital, why in the world would you give it to a country club up front?  Would you throw down $20,000 on a new car?  No, you let the dealership float the vehicle at 0% so you can continue to earn 4% on that $20,000.  FIN 341 – Principles of Finance.

Clubs completely understand prospective members invest their capital in a variety of holdings so they too provide a zero percent financing option.  Unlike dealerships though, most clubs will stretch financing periods well past the standard 48 months.  Have you heard of 144 month plans?  Not likely, but these are the methods clubs utilize to attract new members.  So let’s do a little more math, sorry but this will make sense soon.  So $20,000 over twelve years works out to roughly $140/month.  So now we need to add this to our monthly dues which were $400.  We’re now sitting at $540 per month.  

Let’s say your cap drops a couple more strokes and you’re now averaging 84 or about a 12 handicap.  You’re now looking at $0.80 per stroke (($540)/(84X8)) holding your rounds per month constant at eight.  Wait a minute.  So even with a $20,000 entrance fee you’re saying it’s actually cheaper to join and golf at a country club?  Yes.  That’s exactly what we’re saying.  Bust out your TI-84 calculator and double check the math!

It must be boring playing the same course all the time?

If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this!  This is perhaps the most common objection public golfers cite when asked about joining a country club.  Valid point if you’re hitting driver-wedge on every hole.  There are a few members that are cursed with this problem.  What a horrible problem to have might I add.  For the rest of us that put our ball in the trees, water, bunker, parking lot, and every other fairway except the one we’re supposed to put it on, we’ll never see the same lie…..let alone hit driver-wedge on any hole.

Here’s another question to ask yourself.  Do you score better or worse when you play the same golf course back-to-back weeks?  Familiarity saves strokes.  Period.  That being said, it is nice to play other courses every once in awhile.  There are what’s referred to as reciprocal clubs.  These clubs are loosely affiliated with each other, essentially allowing members to play other private courses free of charge.  The hitch here is reciprocal tee times are typically restricted to weekday afternoons when most of us are at work looking at our coffee mug – I’d rather be golfing.  So weekday afternoons and it must be a foursome from your club.  Oh, and you need to put in a ballot request with your head pro ahead of time specifying the desired date and all of your playing partners.  Easy right?

So let’s say your ballot is accepted and you receive your 2pm time next Tuesday.  You and a few of your fellow members tee it up and launch your drives down the first fairway.  As you approach your shots, they’ve all landed in a bunker that acts as a catch basin.  What you didn’t know is that this hole calls for a 200 yard shot to avoid this hazard.  Again, if you’re unfamiliar with the reciprocal course, you’re likely going to lose a few strokes if you’re not joined by a member of that club or accompanied by a caddie.  Playing with a member is always better.  They know which club to pull and typically share similar interests which makes for an enjoyable social outing.  So while you have the ability to golf at a select few reciprocal courses, the reciprocal process is far from optimal.   

A benefit of being a club member is that you can invite your family, friends, and business associates to golf as your guest.  You must of course follow the club’s guest policy which is typically very lenient.  A guest fee is charged to your account so you either treat your guest to a round or they can pay you back at a later date.  This is standard practice at just about every club so if you know a member of another private club you too can join them as their guest.  I’ve found this to be the easiest way to golf at and experience the amenities of other clubs because you circumvent the clunky reciprocal process altogether.  Arranging a tee time to play as a member’s guest can typically be arranged within 24 hours.  

Seeing the reciprocal process as a problem, I wanted to find a way to play other private clubs in my area and anywhere I travel.  My solution was to develop an online community for club members to connect with each other for networking purposes, to exchange goods/services, and to golf at other private clubs.  Country Club X does just that.  It’s a free service restricted to active country club members with a registered handicap (USGA, RCGA, EGA).  Arranging a round at another club is as simple as searching the member directory for members willing to golf with guests.  Viewing their profile reveals their willingness to golf with guests (Yes, No, or Contact Me), their club, their handicap, and their professional affiliation.  Either send a friend request or a private message to initiate contact with the member you’re interested in golfing with.  The rest is up to you.

Will I fit in at a country club?   

If you’re passionate about golf, I can guarantee you’ll meet plenty of members equally as passionate about the game.  Networking is perhaps the most valuable intangible benefit of club membership.  It’s safe to say just about every industry is represented amongst the 500+ members at any country club.  While these members are likely very good at what they do and well respected in their industry, they’re all golfers just like you and me.  Sure you’ll miss your friends from the public circuit and I’m not suggesting you’ll replace them with your fellow members, but you may find getting a game much easier as a club member.  Before you know it, you’ll have other members asking you to join their weekend group, nine & dine after work, or partner up in the next member-guest tournament.  

What about the myth that country club members carry low handicaps?

Well.  You would think.  In reality, the average handicap at any club is closer to 18 than 4.  How is that possible?  While most club members absolutely love the game of golf, they are not all blessed with the athletic and/or mental ability to score in the 70’s.  That coupled with the fact most members would rather tee it up than hit the range to work on their chicken wing swing will keep their handicap where it is.  So there’s no need to be intimidated by the golf prowess of club members.  You may actually find that you’re a much better golfer than you think.   

Simply put, country clubs are for golfers.