Is now the right time to join a private club?

Updated: March 31, 2010

With the current economic instability golf is proving not be immune to the pressures. Throughout the golden age of golf, from the 80s through the 90s, more golf courses were built than at any other time in history. The number of courses outstripped the number of new golfers entering the market and it was inevitable that at some point the bubble was going to burst. That time may have arrived, with more impact in some markets, but to some measure, all regions are feeling the crunch right now.

There is a feeling of desperation at some clubs around the country as they try to attract new members and struggle to keep their existing membership intact. Some of the reasons people are quitting clubs are changing interests; relocating; changing jobs; and unusual family circumstances; death of the member. These are the same reasons that have always kept memberships fluid at private clubs. When this is combined with a tight economy, club membership tends to decline.

For this reason many private clubs across the country are slashing their fees to entice golfers to join. Many are eliminating the initiation fee altogether or reducing it and allowing new members to stretch out payments for years. This is good news for those who’d like to get the benefits of a private club membership but couldn’t justify the initial costs. Now, if you can afford the monthly dues, you are able to pick and choose between several clubs. Several Northwest clubs have followed suit, offering memberships for just the monthly dues and not asking for the initiation fees until after a year. Some people stay, some people don’t.

While this may seem like a doomsday scenario, don’t be mislead, not all clubs are experiencing the downturn. Some, especially the higher-end clubs where the initiation fee can be $100,000 or more, still have a solid membership and a waiting list.

Clubs that may be suffering are not necessarily offering any less of a quality experience but are affected mostly by their location and the economic health of the geography around them. These are the ones that can be the best bargain for new members.

Why join a private club? What is the attraction of private membership? There are several answers to these questions and those who are members, are well acquainted with the answers.

A big perk is to not have to hassle with green fees at the pro shop and you can book a tee time any time you like. You can enjoy a leisurely round of golf – nobody breathing down your neck on each hole. You have a private lounge with all of the perks of an upscale restaurant. Many members own their own golf carts and are able to, for a small fee, store them at the course. You can participate in numerous tournaments and private activities from inter-club competition to Easter brunches for the family. Fine dining is available anytime you are in the mood. Great service is lavished on members from the golf shop on through to the restaurant. The ability to play several other private courses under reciprocal arrangements is attractive to many members.

For business people all of this can be a nice tax deduction. And, if the spouse doesn’t play, they will enjoy, as can the rest of the family, the pool, the tennis court and the numerous parties and other amenities the club may offer.

There was a time when club membership was reserved for the men of industry and professionals like doctors and lawyers. That has all changed now as the average age for members has fallen significantly and clubs have introduced family social activities that have become a focal point for families social lives. All this in a safe environment. Combine all of advantages of membership with the camaraderie and friendships developed with fellow members and it really doesn’t get any better.

Joining an established club may have other benefits as most of the expansions and capitol investments have already been made and paid for.