Your editor's agony: Is membership worth the costs?

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, one of the best in the nation, charges at high season about what it costs me per round to play as a member at the two clubs to which I belong.

    I have been a member of a private golf club for 23 years and a semi-private one for the last nine.  Long before the latest threat of recession, I worried about the economics of carrying two golf course memberships - one in Connecticut near our primary home, and one in South Carolina where we maintain a second home.  In 1990, the year after my son was born, and when I belonged only to the one course in Connecticut, I played just a handful of rounds at a cost of about $400 per.  Pebble Beach green fees at the time were about half that.  Last year I played my course up north 12 times and my southern course just 10.  I'm an ideal member, at least from the club CFOs' points of view.
    Combined dues in my two clubs top $800 a month or almost $10,000 annually, and this year I calculate that my son and I, the only two golfers in the family, will play a total of 50 rounds at both courses at a net cost of

One year each round of golf at my private club cost $400.  Green fees at Pebble Beach were $200 at the time.

about $192 per round (I'm ignoring any cart fees because we'd pay for them elsewhere).  We are doing a lot of traveling this summer, and most of his fall and spring golf is played at college.
    Coincidentally, $192 is the highest fee charged during the year at the terrific Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, not three miles from our condo.  The rest of the year, especially in those summer months when we tend to be in South Carolina, Caledonia's green fees are about $80 per round.  Other outstanding courses within 15 minutes of the condo are available for $60 and less.  In Connecticut, within an hour of our home, we have access to outstanding daily fee layouts for less than $100.  Recently, a nice private course on the side of a mountain, and just seven minutes from our home, converted to a public facility.  Wintonbury Hills, a wonderful Pete Dye design in Bloomfield, CT, and no farther away (18 minutes) than our private course, charges non-members just $70 at the height of the season, cart included.
    Couples I talk with who are nearing retirement are seriously considering maintaining two homes - one to continue close links with family and friends up north, and another to realize their dream of living next to or near a course in warmer climes.  In most cases, only the husband is a golfer and he intends to play no more than three or four days a week, or less than 200 times a year.  That will work out to about $50 a round (assuming  dues of about $10,000 annually).  That $50 is something of a "break-even" point for private club membership,
Private club membership has its privileges...and its price

about what you would pay as a walk-on at most decent daily fee clubs in the southern U.S.  But, of course, the private club offers much more, including easier arrangements for tee times, a feeling of belonging to a group, planned activities, a clubhouse for dining and other social events, and an involved membership that is likely to push for high standards of maintenance on the course.

    I haven't factored initiation fees into this discussion, but if you join a non-equity club (i.e. one in which your initial member fee is not returned when you leave the club), you should consider that cost as well.  A $25,000 initiation fee, for example, equates to a few years of $100 rounds at daily-fee courses.
    As many of us go from careers to life on fixed incomes, we need to consider how best to balance the dream of belonging to a private club (or two) with the reality of the economics of membership and the availability of so much excellent golf virtually everywhere.  I am considering the dilemma right now.



The Pete Dye designed Wintonbury Hills in Bloomfield, CT, is as good and well-maintained as most private courses in the area.  The par 4 5th hole is short but tricky.

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