Are Golf Memberships Worth It? Pros And Cons Explained

One of the biggest decisions any golf lover will make is which club to join – or whether to join one at all.

You may have reached the point where A) the fortnightly game with mates doesn’t feel like enough; B) you want to treat yourself to a nicer course; or C) you’re just plain sick of waiting in line to pay in the pro shop each time you go out for a round.

Maybe it’s a combination of all three things.

But before you dive in and hand over a bucket load of money (some memberships will cost you thousands) you need to determine whether, for you, a golf membership is worth it.

For anyone who plays golf regularly, a golf membership is definitely worth it. It is important you take into account how often you play, what you can afford and the playing rights you will have at a prospective course before committing to a membership. But if you are playing at least once a week, a golf membership will likely save you money, and present great value, in the long run.

Below, I’ll outline in more detail some of the benefits to holding a golf membership, to help you make an informed decision about whether or not to join a club.

What should I consider before becoming a member of a golf course?

Before becoming a member of a golf course, you should consider the following key factors: price; non-member fees vs member fees; location; the friendliness of existing members; whether or not you want a golf handicap; the quality of facilities; and your access to those facilities.

The question of whether or not to join a golf club has many boxes that need ticking before taking the plunge and signing up for a membership. Let’s explore these below.

Price

Memberships at most courses range from as low as a few hundred bucks to several thousand, depending on location, prestige and facilities.

For anyone who earns an average wage or is starting out in the game, a golf membership in excess of $2000 a year may seem like a pretty big investment (especially when you could pay the same money and buy a FlightScope to use in the comfort of your own home whenever you feel like it).

To determine whether it’s worth signing up at a course, its important to consider how often you are likely to play in a year and calculate the cost of each round and determine whether a membership would work out cheaper in the long run.

We’ve done exactly that using an example scenario in the table below.

Non-member fees vs member fees (savings breakdown)

Picture this: your local course charges $2000 annually for a full seven-day playing membership.

You decide to pay the full sum upfront, while your friend opts against getting a membership and decides he’ll pay the $40 green fee each time he plays.

Which works out to be cheaper? Well, it comes down to how many rounds you and your friend play in the following 12 months – and as the graph below shows, the more times you tee it up, the greater the value of membership.

Rounds per yearNon-member feesMember saving
30$1200-$800
40$1600-$400
50$2000$0
60$2400+$400
70$2800+$800
80$3200+$1200

If you and your friend play less than once a week, then a membership probably isn’t worthwhile.

But if you play more than once a week, you can see the savings start to become quite significant – not to forget all the extra privileges that come with being a member.

These could include being able to book tee times online via the private member login, clubhouse bar credit, or having the club maintaining your handicap for no extra fee.

Let’s delve deeper into what some of the benefits are to having a golf membership.

Prestige

While we at Project Golf Australia are the last people to condone golfing snobbery, we do understand that, for some people, club membership is an indicator of success, more so than a means to play regular, cheaper golf.

Some of the super top courses in each city can demand close to $10,000 a year, so you’d better be making a decent living if you feel this price tag is worth the boost to your image.

Convenience

Whether a membership makes golf significantly cheaper for you to play or not, the convenience of not needing to hand over money at the pro shop each time you play, or argue with your friends about which course you should play on the weekend, could be ultra-appealing.

The ease of being able to drop into your home course after work, stroll straight to the first tee without needing to pay green fees and squeeze in a quick nine holes can be worth the price of membership alone.

We recommend finding a course that is close to both work and home, allowing mid-week rounds during the longer summer days.

You never know who you might meet at your new club.

Friendliness

After price, the friendliness of existing members is probably the next most important factor.

Nobody likes being yelled at or getting caught up in arguments on the course, so it’s vital that you play any course a few times before signing up and chat to some of the local members in order to get a ‘feel’ for the place.

If they seem friendly and speak positively of the club and newcomers, it’s a green light to lock yourself in.

If you get the slightest feeling that the old boys huddling around the putting green aren’t keen on your unfamiliar face gracing their course, or if they’re outwardly rude to you or make you feel excluded, then maybe it’s best to start looking elsewhere.

Golf handicap

As fun as social golf is, anyone who becomes obsessed by golf eventually wants the challenge of trying to reduce their handicap – but to do that, you first need to get one.

Any course charging good money for a membership should hold a handicap for you and run competitive rounds for prizes, and your handicap will allow you to enter these.

It would also pay to ask if your club uses an app like MiScore for easy scoring that provides detailed data on each round right at your fingertips.

Facilities

When becoming a member at a golf course, the greens and fairways – while they are crucially important – are only one element to factor in.

Courses vary when it comes to the quality of clubhouse facilities, access to gyms, practice ranges, coaching and member perks.

Do your research and make sure you get things like food and beverage credit, and pro shop deals included in your membership if you’re paying upwards of $2000 a year.

Access

Clubs offer a range of memberships from only driving range access through to full seven-day playing rights.

Read any membership brochure from cover to cover and weigh up all of the options before committing to anything.

If you must play on Saturdays, you’re going to need a full seven-day membership.

But if you can only play mid-week, or only on certain days, then most courses will have other membership options to cater for this, which will help you save on cost.

Why is golf membership so expensive?

Golf courses of a decent standard can cost millions of dollars per year to run, hence why memberships can be expensive. The water and electricity bills alone can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as wages for greenkeepers and kitchen staff, machinery, website maintenance and even marketing to attract new members.

When you become a member of the course, you are committing a chunk of money that reflects just how expensive it is to keep the course profitable – or, in some cases, simply breaking even.

Clubs with better facilities, clubhouses and multiple courses on the premises (yes, some even have two 18-hole layouts at the same venue) will likely cost quite a lot per year when compared to a nine-hole course maintained to a lower standard and with less facilities.

Golf courses aren’t cheap to run.

Unfortunately, some courses out there pay far too much attention to their image and fees are priced at a level to deter the perceived ‘riff-raff’ from joining, rendering these clubs beyond the realms of possibility for much of the golfing population.

Huge sign-on fees of thousands of dollars are once off payments that aim to attract purely the upper echelon of society, or, if I’m less cynical, simply compel people to stay locked in long term as a club member due to the hefty initial financial commitment.

What are the benefits of joining a golf club?

The main benefits of joining a golf club include: being given a handicap and permitted to enter competitions; inclusion in special events; access to an unlimited amount of golf; convenience of your fees being direct debited; and reciprocal rights to play at other sister clubs at a discounted rate, or without charge.

Once you’ve found a club you like, can afford and that represents value for money, there are a huge amount of perks and benefits you can enjoy over the course of the year (and potentially decades) by being a member.

Let’s take a look at some of them in more detail.

Competitions and handicaps

Many courses run competitions several times a week and, for a small additional fee, you can join and win prizes in the pro shop or vouchers to spend in the clubhouse.

These competitions will affect your handicap, which the club will also manage for you after you submit three 18-hole cards signed by another handicap holder to get started.

Special events

Clubs hold matchplay championships, ambrose competitions, twilight golf nights, Masters morning breakfasts and a whole host of events that blend golf and socialisation together.

As a member of a lively club, you might find yourself tasting gins and dining on Mexican food just as often as you actually grace the fairways.

Unlimited golf

Undoubtedly the main reason to become a member is the value it presents if you play regularly.

Play twice a week and a $2000 per year membership equates to less than $20 a round, plus competition fees (which are usually $5-$10 when entering).

This in itself can save you hundreds of dollars each year compared to if you played the course twice a week as a non-member, as our earlier table illustrated.

GOLF PRO ALEX ELLIOTT EXPLAINS SOME BENEFITS OF BECOMING A MEMBER IN THE VIDEO BELOW:

Convenience

Become a member and display your member tag, and you can walk onto the course and play any time you like.

You will still need to book during busy periods (most clubs have online booking systems for members) but when the course is quiet, you can stroll onto the first tee with little hassle and play a couple of balls to practice.

Direct debit

Clubs might offer discounts for upfront payments and charge processing fees for monthly instalments, but if you don’t have a huge chunk of cash handy many clubs will allow you to pay via direct debit each month.

You can factor this cost into your fortnightly budget and enjoy the convenience of never needing to think about green fees again.

Reciprocal rights

Most golf clubs have a reciprocal rights program for members where you can play at a range of other courses, both intrastate, interstate or even internationally for a reduced fee, if any fee at all.

These arrangements vary depending on the club, and more prestigious courses will usually have agreements with other prestigious courses around the country.

Can I be a member of more than two golf clubs?

If you are in a financial position to be a member of two golf clubs, lucky you! There is no reason why you can’t join a course near your house and a course near work, for added convenience, if you have the money to do so.

As long as you can afford it, you can be a member wherever you please and at multiple clubs at the same time.

Keep in mind, though, that one club will have to be selected as your ‘home club’ where your handicap is held.

Final message

If you love the game and are playing weekly, you should definitely consider a membership to a golf club.

Memberships range from several hundred to several thousand dollars annually, so do your research and calculate whether you would save money per round depending on how often you play.

A golf club membership can help you save money in the long run (if you play regularly), add extra convenience and freedom to tee it up whenever you want, and provide a great opportunity to meet people through social events and competitions.

By following and taking into consideration the tips above, I guarantee you’ll find a golf course that is worth becoming a member at.

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