Private Clubs: Readers Push Back

September 16, 2008

Golf Digest readers Justin Blair and Andy Jones sent outspoken letters about our just-landed private club package in the October issue. Although we made the case that now was a great time to take advantage of bargains in the golf-club market, Blair and Jones aren't buying.

__I think that being a member to some private club is a joke. Why pay so much for golf? Maybe I'm different, but I can't see spending thousands of dollars for what, the privilege? Wow! __

__I play almost all of my golf at St. Joe Valley Golf Club in Sturgis, MI. It will never hold a U.S. Open, or be ranked in the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play"; it doesn't reach 6,000 yards or have a slope rating of 150, but I love this place. >


Maybe this doesn't make me a "real" golfer in this magazine's eyes. but I don't care. I have a hard enough time breaking 90 here, so it's definitely a challenge for me. The golf's a great deal, even on high-season weekends. I can't even begin to describe the hospitality of the owners, Don and Sue Powell. I can't afford to be a member (even though St. Joe is only about $500. (Again, maybe why I'm not a REAL golfer) But it doesn't matter to them, they treat me as if I were. I've yet to find any real jerks here, either.

__I imagine I'll never play Pebble, Spyglass, St. Andrews or any other "Top 100's", but with what I have basically in my backyard, I could care less. __>

--Justin Blair

(Note: St. Joe Valley Golf Course ranks as one of the country's best bargains according to Golf Digest's Places to Play ratings by public golfers. It earns 4 stars and offers greens fees as low as $19).

__Over the years of reading various golf publications I have become and increasingly concerned with the future--or price tag--of our sport.  It's bad enough that the top-100 hundred courses' greens fees are typically over $100.00. Now we have 15 or so pages of the October issue telling us  why and how to join a private country club for the rock bottom initiation fee of $6,500 to $9,000, with annual dues over $3,000--most clubs requiring monthly food minimums as well. __

__ Average golfers know the value of their hard-earned dollar, what they can and cannot afford.  The game's popularity has begun to level off for recreational golfers, yet greens fees, golf attire and equipment costs have increased.  Ridiculously priced equipment, attire, shoes and belts are routinely featured in all publications.  So much that we need to spend more time, ads and articles in what is reality for the average golfer. In my younger days as a restauranteur we were careful not to price ourselves out of the market.  It is happening now in our sport.  We have to remember that a day of golf at the 'average' local course can cost over $100 from leaving the house to returning 4 hours later humbled by a little dimpled ball and a four inch hole in the ground.  __

__Golf Digest always provides excellent interviews, coverage and instruction in every issue. Unfortunately, the article regarding joining a private club only proliferates the idea that our sport is elitist and selective.  >

I can now understand why some non-golfers think that way. I also can understand why some golfers do not play anymore.  They simply cannot afford it.__>

--Andy Jones

Thank you for your letters, gentlemen. We need those reminders, and frequently. Although we continue to believe that this is an opportune time for families considering a private club (not only for golf but for the other amenities and flexibility good clubs offer), it will never be for everyone.  Our golfing nation is a varied one. One golfer's bargain is another's out-of-reach luxury. But your basic message is unassailable: If we want new players to join our sport, we had better make it affordable. I think the golf industry is finally getting that message, too. This fall, you'll see a new initiative to bring adults into the game the way the First Tee has brought kids. It will be inexpensive. It is needed. Thanks for reminding us our sport is not about the money or prestige; it's about the enjoyment and camraderie--and that need not be expensive.

--Bob Carney