Once golf becomes your primary hobby, it's time to decide whether to join a private club or continue to play public courses. Granted, country clubs have been called one of the...

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Once golf becomes your primary hobby, it’s time to decide whether to join a private club or continue to play public courses.

Granted, country clubs have been called one of the worst social institutions in the history of America with their track record of discrimination and snobbery. But times have changed, and a lot of area clubs are surprisingly diverse. And most clubs are looking for new members.

There are clubs in the Puget Sound area where the initiation fee is less than $5,000 and others where it is less than $10,000. There also are clubs where the initiation fee is more than $30,000. (At many clubs, you get most of your initiation fee back when you sell your membership).

One pro advised, “If you’re considering joining a club, make sure you play the course and try to meet a lot of members before you make your decision.”


• Practice facilities. It’s a rare club that doesn’t have a driving range, chipping green, practice greens and practice bunkers.

Anne Carr of Renton, runner-up in the 2001 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur and semifinalist in 2002, said, “When I didn’t belong to a club, I was driving all over the place in rush-hour traffic to practice different things — 80-yard shots at Jefferson Park, bunker shots at Riverbend, long irons at ranges where they were allowing you to hit off grass. I told this to Sue Ursino of Sahalee and she said, “Anne, you and Joe (husband) live one mile from Fairwood. Bite the bullet and join.”

Carr joined and has called it a wise decision. She said the Fairwood members were “like family” when she faced a serious medical problem.

• The condition of fairways and greens is usually better at a private course.

• The pace of play is usually faster at a club.

• You can almost always get on and play at a private course. In fact, at some clubs they don’t have tee times. Members just show up and play.

• You have a voice. Bothered by the limbs of a tree that obstruct a shot from the fairway to the 15th green? You can complain at a public course but it might not do you any good. But at a private club there is a greens committee of members that will pay attention to your complaint, even if they wind up disagreeing with you.

• There is a feeling of belonging.

• There is good golf etiquette and golf atmosphere.

• There is regular and varied competition, from the serious club championship to light-hearted events such as golf with “glow balls” at night. Competition is usually by flights (ability levels).

• You can play many other private courses by paying greens fees in what is called a “reciprocal” arrangement among clubs. Also, inter-club competitions can enable you to play other courses for free.

• There are business advantages to treating clients and customers to golf or meals at “my club.”

• If your son or daughter wants to be a good player, he or she probably will develop faster at a private club because of the practice facilities and the interest members and staff will take in their progress.

• At many clubs, the flag at the club will be flown at half-staff in your honor when you die.


• You feel obligated to play your club course because you are paying dues, probably about $300 a month, and you don’t get to enjoy the variety of good public courses in your area.

• You have to pay monthly dues in the dreary winter months when you aren’t playing. At many clubs, you are billed a specific amount for food whether you ate at the club or not. (This may explain why your friends invite you to their club for lunch or dinner late in a month.)

• If another hobby — bicycling, boating, hiking — suddenly appeals to you and you want to devote a lot of time to it, you still are paying club dues.

• You might not feel comfortable right away as a new member because you don’t know many people.

• As a member, you can get hit with “special assessments” that run into the thousands of dollars for anything from locker-room remodeling to a new irrigation system.

• Country-club politics. Most clubs are member-run institutions and there can be bitter disputes over issues.