12 Must-Ask Questions Before Joining a Golf Club

If you love to play golf, enjoy the outdoors, and are looking for a social setting to spend your time, joining a golf club is one of the best things you can do.

However, golf memberships certainly aren’t cheap. If you’re like most people, you want to make sure you’re getting the best value for your hard-earned dollars.

In this article, we’ll share 12 questions you should always ask before joining a golf club.

  • Membership type (private or public)
  • Payment structure
  • Amenities offered
  • Food minimum
  • Membership cancellation policy
  • Course details
  • Average member age
  • Tee time restrictions
  • Walking or cart-friendly
  • Staff and Service
  • Men’s/Ladies Night
  • Lessons

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

12 Questions To Ask Before Joining a Golf Club

Membership Type (Private or Public)

One of the first things you’ll want to think about before choosing a golf club is the type of membership. There are two main types of golf clubs you can join – public or private. 

Private Golf Clubs

Private golf clubs differ from public golf clubs because they’re much more exclusive. Private members usually have to pay a one-time initiation fee in addition to a yearly membership renewal fee. 

The nice thing about private clubs is that there will be far fewer golfers compared to public clubs. This means you won’t have to compete with others to get a tee time or use the clubhouse facilities. Say goodbye to painfully slow 5-hour rounds!

There are generally two types of private golf clubs – equity and non-equity. Equity clubs mean that in exchange for your membership fee, you’re actually purchasing a share of the golf club with all of the other membership holders. 

Think of it like buying a stock. You don’t own the entire company, but you own a piece of it while also gaining the right to vote on important decisions.

It’s important to note that the cost to join an equity club can be very high ($5,000+). Sometimes equity memberships even cost hundreds of thousands of dollars!

However, what’s interesting is that when you want to exit an equity-structured club, you will receive your initial investment (or at least a portion of it) as a refund. You can even get more money than you paid if the value of a membership at that particular golf club has appreciated during your time there!

On the other hand, a non-equity country club is one that’s owned by a person or corporation other than the members. 

Many members prefer this type of private membership because it removes them from the managerial responsibilities involved with equity memberships. 

However, the downside is that non-equity members will likely only receive a percentage of their initial deposit when they exit the club. 

Public Golf Clubs

The second and most popular type of golf clubs are public golf clubs. These are golf courses that sell annual memberships while also allowing non-members to enjoy the facilities offered. 

The upside to a membership at a public golf club is that it’s far cheaper than a private membership. 

Of course, lower costs typically mean public memberships are more accessible, so these types of golf clubs are generally very busy. 

Just like with non-equity private memberships, members at public golf clubs do not have any managerial responsibilities. They simply show up and play when they want to! 

Payment Structure

Another important thing to look at when joining a golf club is the payment structure. There’s no getting around the fact that golf memberships are expensive. This is simply a byproduct of the astronomical expenses involved in running a golf course.

Because joining a golf club is such a huge investment, how the club will charge is an important factor in your decision. 

For example, do they require a single lumpsum payment? Or, do they allow you to purchase a membership in monthly installments? 

In our subscription economy, more and more golf courses are starting to see the value in a monthly subscription model. 

Ask around and see which golf clubs have a payment structure that best fits your needs. 

Amenities Offered

To make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck, be sure to check out the amenities offered at the club you’re thinking of joining. 

For example, let’s take a look at two different golf clubs. 

Golf club A and golf club B both charge $2,000 for an annual membership. 

Golf club A provides the following amenities:

  • 18 hole golf course
  • Driving range
  • Locker room access
  • Restaurant discount.

Golf club B provides the following amenities:

  • 27 hole golf course
  • Locker room access
  • Restaurant discount.

As you can see from the info above, golf club A has a driving range but golf club B doesn’t. However, golf club B has a 27-hole course while golf club A has just 18.

In this case, you need to decide what’s more important to you – the extra 9 holes at club B or the driving range at club A?

Personally, a driving range is a dealbreaker for me as I’m someone who needs to hit a bucket of balls or two before every round to warm up. However, others might prefer the extra 9-holes to keep things interesting!

Just because two clubs charge the same amount for a membership doesn’t mean they offer the same amenities. 

Chances are you’ll prefer one over the other. 

Food Minumum

Some golf courses fail to advertise the hidden costs of purchasing a membership at their course. One of the most overlooked hidden costs is the food minimum. This is exactly what it sounds like – the minimum amount of money you need to spend on food or drinks each month. 

Some golf clubs will have food minimums while others will not. The food minimum will vary by course, but it’s generally between $50 and $200.

Food minimums are much more common at private golf clubs.

Cancellation Policy

What happens when you no longer want to be a member? The cancellation policy at your golf club will vary depending on the type of club. 

For example, private equity memberships typically refund all (or most) of the initial membership cost when you cancel your membership. 

Private non-equity memberships refund none or a much smaller portion of your investment when you leave the club. 

The cancellation policy at public golf clubs can vary significantly from course to course. However, most courses state that after receipt and processing of a member’s application, they have no obligation to refund membership fees except for in exceptional circumstances. 

But what qualifies as an exceptional circumstance?

Again, this will vary by golf club, however, most classify the following as exceptional circumstances that qualify for a refund:

  • Serious injury or illness
  • Relocation to a new city
  • Early cancellation (cancel your membership before a certain date in the golf season).
  • Military posting.

If you cancel your membership midway through the season, you will usually only receive a refund for the unused months. 

Course Details

You’ll also want to learn about the course before joining a particular golf club. After all, the main activity people enjoy at a country club is golf. 

Here are some questions to consider: do you prefer regulation length or executive golf courses? Are you a long-hitter or not so much? Are the fairways wide and forgiving or is it a tight course?

One thing golfers will often overlook is the difficulty of the course. This is specified by the course rating. The course rating compares the difficulty of a course to the abilities of a scratch golfer.

For example, a par 72 course with a rating of 73.0 means that a scratch golfer is expected to shoot a 73 (1-over) on the course. 

The course rating will vary depending on the tees you play from, so be sure to take this into account when researching golf clubs to join. 

Let’s face it – golf is always more enjoyable when you shoot good scores. If you choose to join a course that’s known for being difficult, it might limit your enjoyment of the sport. 

Average Member Age

Golf is a sport for all ages, however, often a certain age group will prevail at each golf club. 

There are many clubs with a more traditional atmosphere. These types of clubs generally cater to an older audience. Traditional clubs are often more structured and enforce rules like no music on the golf course and a strict dress code.

Younger golfers might prefer to join a slightly more progressive club where these rules are taken down a few notches. 

Golf is a very social sport and it’s always a good idea to choose a club where you’ll have no problem fitting in with the existing members! 

Tee Time Restrictions

Some golf clubs (especially private clubs) will restrict the best tee times to certain classes of members. For example, someone who has been a member for 20 years will be able to choose priority tee times over someone who has only been a member for 2 years. 

This might be a problem if you can only golf at certain times, and these times fall in the slots that are restricted to long-time members. 

Generally, high-profile tee times include early mornings on weekends and evenings during the workweek. 

Walking or Cart-Friendly

Next up, think about how you get around the course. Do you prefer to walk or ride in a cart? 

Some golf clubs specify that they are “walking-only” courses. These types of courses are for the traditionalists – those who like to play the game as it was originally designed. Keep in mind, most walking-only courses will allow players to hire a caddy for their round. 

Other courses only allow players to use golf carts. This is especially common for courses with extreme elevation changes. Walking these types of courses would simply take too long and slow down play. 

It’s worth noting here that there are also often restrictions for golf cart use. For example, some courses allow members to use their own golf carts. In this case, they usually charge a tracking fee – a sort of tax for allowing you to use your own golf cart on their course. 

Other courses do not allow members to bring their carts and require them to use club carts only. 

Finally, most golf clubs allow members to decide if they would like to walk or ride. This is nice because if you’ve had a long day at work, you can relax and ride in a cart. Or, if you’re looking to get some exercise, you can walk the course!

Staff and Service

The staff and service can make or break a golf club. If you’ve ever had a less-than-ideal experience at a golf course, you’ll know what I’m talking about here.

It could be as simple as a rude comment from an employee, or getting ignored and receiving no service altogether. 

If you’re paying thousands of dollars for a membership to a golf club, you should expect the best. 

To make sure that’s exactly what you get, it’s a good idea to play the course a couple of times before taking the plunge and buying your membership. 

This will give you a good preview of the type of service you’ll receive as a member. 

Of course, it will be much easier to test out a public golf course. All you have to do is pay for a tee time and hit the links!

Private clubs can be a little tricky. Sometimes they’ll allow you to test out the course if you let them know you’re looking for a place to buy a membership, sometimes they won’t. 

If they don’t, your best bet is to ask a member there to invite you as their guest. Most private courses allow members to bring a guest out on the course from time to time. 

While scouting out the service at a golf club, here are a few things to look for:

  • Services offered (valet parking, caddy services, restaurant, etc…).
  • Friendliness of staff.
  • Frequency of service (Eg. how often does the drinks cart come around when you’re on the course?).
  • Speed of service.

Feel free to add to this list based on what you would like to see from a golf club!

Men’s/Ladies Night

You’ll also want to make sure the club you’re thinking of joining has regular events such as a Men’s or Ladies’ Night. This can be a great way to meet other members, socialize, and have a good time. 

If your golf club does not plan any social events like these, it might be hard to get to know other members. Don’t get me wrong, golf is fun no matter what. But it’s always better when you have a few friends to play with on the weekends rather than golfing alone!

Most Men’s and Ladies’ nights at golf courses will have alternating formats. For example, one week might be stroke play. The next could be match play. Possibly a 4-ball scramble after that. 

This helps to keep things interesting, week after week. Groups will also rotate each week so you’ll have a chance to play with plenty of new golfers.

Lessons

Finally, if you’re serious about improving your game, you might want to make sure the golf club you join has a solid instruction program.

I’d recommend looking at the golf instructors employed by the course.

What are their credentials? 

How long have they been teaching golf? 

Does their teaching philosophy align with your goals? 

Do they have examples of how they’ve helped students in the past?

Of course, you can also always opt for an online golf coach or program – the best I’ve seen so far can be found at Me and My Golf.

The Takeaway – The 12 Most Important Questions To Ask Before Joining a Golf Club

In this article, we shared 12 critical questions you need to consider before joining a golf club. These questions apply regardless of the type of golf course (private or public):

  • Membership type (private or public)
  • Payment structure
  • Amenities offered
  • Food minimum
  • Membership cancellation policy
  • Course details
  • Average member age
  • Tee time restrictions
  • Walking or cart-friendly
  • Staff and Service
  • Men’s/Ladies Night
  • Lessons

It’s no secret that golf memberships aren’t cheap. That’s why I urge you to carefully read over these questions again before deciding to pony up thousands of dollars for your golf membership.

Hopefully, the information provided in this post helps you make the right decision!

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