There is no shortage of high-quality golf courses open to the public. Looking through lists of the top public golf courses, you’ll find names like Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits, and Bethpage Black. All are playable for anyone, assuming you can actually get a tee time. Still, there is an allure to private golf clubs and what the golf is like on the other side of those high fences. Even if you have no interest in joining a club for yourself, you still might want to play on them, so in this article, we’ll explore a few ways to get out on private golf clubs without a membership.
Search for Competitions and Charity Events
One of the best things about golf is competitive tournaments for players of any skill level. These tournaments can also offer a chance to play courses that would otherwise be private. Searching your local golf association site will likely turn up a list of official events. For example, the Southern California Golf Association has both USGA-sanctioned events and One-Day Series tournaments at a mix of public and private courses in the region. Some of these tournaments are regional club competitions, so participating in your home club can definitely help open these up to you.
Additionally, qualifiers for national tournaments such as the US Mid-Amateur have handicap requirements to participate. For events that are open to anyone, you can also search for charity tournaments in your area, often held at private courses. Generally, the most prestigious courses only host the highest level charity events, so participation will undoubtedly come at a high cost. Still, it might be the best chance to play a course you never could otherwise while supporting a good cause.
Talk with your Home Course Pro
If the private course you’ve been dreaming of is in your local area, a possible resource for scoring a tee time might be the pro at your home course. Golf pros work within a pretty small community, and most tend to know the pro at other courses. A conversation with your home course pro could lead to a call over to the private course to get a tee time. At the very least, they’ll be able to tell better how likely (or not) it would be to get on the private course. Remember that the key to this strategy will be the relationship you have with your home course pro. If this is the first time you’ve ever said more than a word or two to them, then the likelihood of them doing you a favor is going to be a lot less.
Additionally, you’re going to have to be reasonable with your expectations. Your local muni pro isn’t likely able to get you out on Augusta National. Asking for an 8 am Sunday tee off (or any specific time for that matter) also probably won’t happen.
Call and Ask
In the end, probably the simplest and most under-utilized method of getting on a private golf course is just calling the pro shop and asking what is possible. Many private clubs have ambassadors who will host prospective members for a round; you’ll have to pay the guest fee. This will work best if you are interested in joining the club but generally won’t have any strings attached besides a conversation with the club’s membership director.
Additionally, the financial realities for many private clubs these days have pushed them to offer at least some type of limited access. For example, the famous Firestone Country Club provides limited Stay & Play packages to the general public. Several clubs with attached or affiliated lodgings have begun doing the same. Last, several clubs have also started opening up the tee sheets during the off-season or non-peak days. Such availability may be advertised on the club’s website, but the best bet is to call and ask. Even if this strategy isn’t likely to succeed at the most exclusive clubs, it still is worth the phone call since the worst thing that’ll happen is a “no.”
Another no-risk method is to write a persuasive letter. There are countless stories of golfers who have gotten on some of the most exclusive private courses by sending a letter the old-fashioned way.
As mentioned above, the financial realities for many private golf clubs have been brutal for some time as they’ve struggled to attract new members. Many need alternative sources of revenue.
Simultaneously, many golfers are interested in playing these private courses and aren’t interested or unable to become full members. In recent years, new companies have established to try to meet this market need. We’ve talked about Eligo Club on this site before.
Their concept is to offer regional memberships that give private club access through events and tee time requests. For the golfer, this means the ability to play many private courses without becoming a member. The club gains additional revenue without fully opening to the public. Eligo currently only has regional memberships in New York and Philadelphia for the US presently, with more options in Europe where the business started. This model does seem to be a bit more common on the other side of the pond, with services like PlayMoreGolf offering flexible golf memberships at over 260 clubs across the UK.
If you have a current private membership, check out Thousand Greens. It's a no-cost network of members from golf clubs around the world who reciprocate with one another.
Have a course you’ve always dreamed of playing or a story about the private clubs you’ve played? Let us know over at the Practical Golf Forums.