A private golf course is a golf course owned by a club or organization where access is generally restricted to members and guests of such club or organization. Guests of the club are normally expected to play with the sponsoring member.
Access to membership at private courses vary by course. Acceptance of a new member is the final decision of the club. The following concepts are most common:
- Open membership: Any person can inquire and apply for membership. If the membership roll is currently full, the person may apply to be put on a waiting list.
- Invitation only: Some clubs accept new members only through recommendation or invitation by existing members.
- Restricted access: A person must qualify under a strict set of conditions before being accepted as a member.
- Seasonal or Annual Pass: Some clubs may sell and grant membership privileges on a seasonal or annual basis. At some clubs, these memberships are considered as trial memberships. The golfer on a trial membership must make a decision on full membership at the end of the trial period, but is not obligated to take full membership.
Golf at a private club is usually more expensive than similar public courses. There are five common components of expense when being involved with a private club:
- Initiation Fee: This is a one-time payment paid at the time the person is accepted as a member.
- Share Fee: This represents the cost of the new member's share, which represents voting privileges and ownership. This share may be an equity share and depending on the club may be fully or partially refunded when the member leaves. The value of an equity share may rise and fall based on market conditions where the club is located. Depending on the club, the member may sell the share and membership to a third party. It is also paid one time.
- Share Transfer Fee: If a member sells his membership to a third party, this fee applies. Depending on the club, this may be substituted for or added to an initiation fee. This is paid once.
- Annual Dues: This annual fee covers use of the club's facilities, including green fees, locker access, and other amenities.
- Food and Drink Assessment: Each member is expected to have spend a minimum amount in the club's food and beverage services. This can be assessed on a monthly or yearly basis. Assessments vary by club and purchases that count towards the minimum assessment vary.
Benefits of private membership
Private club membership is usually the best fit for the most serious and avid golfers, however average golfers - even with a mid to high handicap - can equally benefit in a club environment.
- There is easier access to tee times at a private club. This is especially true in a metropolitan area where there is fierce demand for tee times at a public course. Instead of competing with a market of over a million golfers, the member only competes for tee times with about 450 members and their guests.
- There is better access to leagues, tournaments, and lesson services as compared to a public club.
- The course is generally in better condition compared to similar public courses. Private club members tend to show ownership in their course and are more likely to replace divots and repair ball damage on greens.
- Playing time is generally more efficient at private courses with knowledgeable members, compared to a public course that could be full of beginners and duffers on a weekend.
- The private course provides club storage (depending on the course this may or may not be included in the annual dues).
- The abuse of privileges in a private club is dealt with more tactfully at a private club than at a public course, so abusive incidents tend to be usually isolated. Given the advent of alcohol licensing on golf courses, it is less likely on a private club that single players will be paired with golfers that are either drunk or may get drunk during the round.
- Some jurisdictions with strong anti-smoking ordinances exempt private clubs from a smoking ban, which may make membership preferable to smokers.
- The club may have reciprocal privileges with other golf courses and clubs, particularly in event the course is hosting a major tournament. If a member is traveling, the pro may write a letter of introduction for the golfer and refer him to similar private clubs at his destination.
- Golfers who prefer variety in their golf may not benefit from private membership.
- Some clubs may assess an emergency assessment (a cash call) on the membership, usually in the event of damage to the course from severe weather or a serious case of turf disease. These usually come from extraordinary losses that are not covered by insurance.
- The implications of a bad relationship between two golfers or between a golfer and staff member are more serious in a private club than at a public course. The golfer can just walk away from a public course.
- The exemption of a private club from an anti-smoking ordinance may not be popular with some non-smokers.
- Dress codes at private clubs can be more restrictive than average golf course dress codes. If the weather is hot, conforming to dress code can be uncomfortable for some.
- Most private clubs use a combination of a ballot request and lottery system to fill weekend and holiday tee times.
- There is usually a limit on the number of times the same person can be sponsored as a guest in a specific year.
- If you are scheduled to play a private course in an upcoming tournament, telephone the club if you are interested in a practice round. Some clubs will accommodate this for you if the tournament is a sanctioned golf association event.
- Some private courses will offer tournament packages to suit corporate or charity events. These are offered usually on a non-prime weekday.
- Some private courses offer corporate memberships.