Recently, as a sleep aid, I began counting the number of multi-day member-guest tournaments I've played over the years. I should have stuck with sheep. My tournament total—and I've conveniently forgotten a few—is 102. Put another way, that's about a year's worth of member-guest events.
My split between playing as the member and as the guest is about 50-50. That's comforting, as I'd like to believe I'm not a mooch or hapless host who can't find a buddy to accept my invitation.
I've played every format imaginable, including a tournament where the holes are played backward (from greens to tees), on a wide range of courses from goat tracks to 100 Greatest layouts, from private dumps to municipal gems. In my best years I could be competitive in the championship flight—assuming my partner was in top form. I've had some successes. My name even appears on a couple of those member-guest tournament plaques found on clubhouse walls.
Nowadays, I tend to be in one of the bottom-of-the-barrel flights. Still, it feels nice to win the runner-up prize in Flight No. 7.
There was a time when I lived for those summertime, multi-day events. And to a degree, I still do. They're my link to "competitive golf." But, increasingly, I'm hearing my contemporaries complain about bad member-guest experiences. (Not with me, I hope!) The reasons are predictable.
1. Time commitment. Two days are borderline acceptable, three days are too much, and four days are way too much.
2. The semi-mandatory "practice round." Also known as leaving your best fight in the gym, which can lead to unrealistic wagering in the hat pools.
3. Sandbaggers. Opponents.
4. Vanity handicappers. Your partner? You? Both?
5. Aches and pains.
6. U.S. Open-like course setups. Length of holes, height of rough, insane hole locations and green speed.
7. Horrible pace of play. Backups on multiple holes (related to course setup).
8. Bland food, and too much of it. Which doesn't stop one from overeating throughout the day and in the evening. Buffet lines get old and predictable quickly.
9. Tournament gifts. Typically inscribed with the name of the event. Ugly, ill-fitting and can't be re-gifted, thanks to the inscription. How many windshirts does one need?
10. Spouse/friend relationship with partner's spouse/friend. A book could be written about this, and probably has.
11. Lame organized evening entertainment. Snoozy bands with dreadful playlists.
12. Opponents who have power to all fields and no short game, yet manage to beat you. And are smug about it.
13. Poor play by partner.
14. Poor play by self.
15. Rain delays/washouts. Leading to overeating and overdrinking while hanging around, waiting (hoping) to play.
16. Losing matches.
17. Partner relationship after losing matches.
18. Spouse/friend relationship after losing matches. Particularly if the loss occurs before the lame organized evening entertainment. (See No. 11.)
I'll never give up on the member-guest experience. But there's also something to be said for the informal member-guest event. The concept is simple. Invite a buddy (and the spouse/friend) for a few days of golf at your home course. It helps if the buddy's spouse/friend plays golf, too. Dine out where you wish. Eat in, when you wish. Play when you wish. Tee it Forward, if you wish. Make the golf a part of the day, not necessarily the centerpiece of the day. Crummy weather? Go bowling. Go to a movie. Golf memento/gift for your buddies? Suggest they pick out something nice from your golf shop (within reason—no golf clubs). Come up with some funny, creative golf games with prizes. Entertainment? Take that tournament entry fee and go out, if that's your wish (easy for me to say—I live in New York City). Gambling? Buy some lottery tickets, and hope. No pressure. No worries. Fun. Friendship.
One last thing. If your pal has an upcoming member-guest tournament and needs a partner, make it clear that though you like the informal member-guest, you can feel your game coming into form, and the two of you would be a formidable team. And wouldn't it be fun to beat a team with power to all fields that can't putt worth a damn?