If you are just learning the game of golf, there are a few things you should know before heading out for the links.
When I first began to enjoy golf and had decided it was a sport I really wanted to continue to practice and play, I began looking around for a golf course to join. Although I could have just played one course after another, I wanted to “belong” somewhere. Luckily, I live in an area of the country that has dozens of golf courses within easy driving distance from my home. Any one of them might be possible. I began to do some research both online and in person.
Basically there are two types of golf courses: public courses and private courses.
Public courses are most often owned by the county or municipality in which they are situated. The budget for the course is set by a town council or committee. Revenues are generated by the green fees the public pays to use the course. Anyone should be able to play at a public course. Tee times are open to all but might be reserved for club leagues or local groups who play each week. Generally you should be able to sign up for a tee time without much hassle. Some public courses have membership fees that allow those who pay a yearly fee to play the course as much as they wish with little or no additional fees. Members who live within the boundaries of the municipality usually pay a lower membership fee as their taxes already contribute to the bottom line.
Private courses are quite a different story. These are owned and operated by an individual or group and the owners can determine who, what, when, and where members can join and play on their course. They set the membership dues, and set the restrictions for membership. Acceptance as a member in a private club is often determined after a candidate has been through a lengthy sponsorship program where he or she is vetted by the other members. For some, being accepted in a prestigious private club is a great stepping stone in society. For others, it is simply the price of doing business. Members of private courses must pay not only an initial acceptance fee, but must meet the yearly dues obligation. The big advantage to joining a private club is the high quality of the golf course and the assurance that you will be treated very well whenever you wish to visit and play. Many clubs also have high end amenities available for members including training centers, swimming pools, restaurants and banquet facilities for special occasions.
As a beginning golfer, you choose where you want to play. Your life circumstances and circle of friends will help you make a decision.
Although you can get a lot of information about a course from their online website, there’s no substitute for actually visiting a golf facility in order to really get to know the place. You also want to be clear about what you are looking for from a golf club – whether it is public or private. You need to prioritize your list of club features into 1) what’s absolutely necessary, 2) what’s desirable, and 3) what you can live with our without.
From the first moment you enter the grounds you can get a sense of how the club treats its members, how welcoming the staff is, and how comfortable you might be while playing there. First impressions do count.
- Are the grounds around the clubhouse well maintained?
- Is the clubhouse itself in good shape?
- Does anyone greet you when you walk in the door? Or are they just too busy to pay attention? It could be they are understaffed which might be a clue as to how well they are doing financially.
- If there is a pro shop store, is it well stocked with products you might be interested in purchasing?
- Is there a locker room, gym, special lounge for you to use?
- What about a restaurant or snack bar? Small and simple? Posh and elegant? Does it matter?
These are questions with answers you can quickly observe just by walking around the facility.
What about the golf course itself and the weekly schedule of play? Ask if there are any restrictions on days or times you can be on the course. Is there a league for beginners you can join? What about instruction? Is there a LPGA or PGA pro on staff? Does the course have a practice range with convenient hours—a putting green, pitching area and bunkers out of which you can practice? Does it cost money to access any of these “extras?”
Par 3 Vs. Regulation Vs. Executive – Size Matters!
How much do you want to play? As a beginner you might be intimidated at the thought of playing a full regulation 18-hole golf course. You can always play only 9 holes if you wish. But the Regulation course will have a mix of 3, 4 and 5 par holes, with some holes exceeding 550 yards each. It makes for a challenging course for a player just starting out. On the other hand a Par-3 style course may have 9 or 18 holes, but each will only be a par-3. The time it takes to play a full regulation course is often over 4 hours. A par 3 18 hole course can be played in under 3. (Playing times of course, are determined by course conditions, weather and how busy the course is at the time you play.) The Executive course is a third type. Small, and easily played in under 2 hours, it has many par 3-s and perhaps a couple of par 4-s. It is designed for a quick round of golf by “the executive” on a break.
Bottom Line: Before becoming a member of any course and signing on any dotted line be sure to visit the golf club, play the course at least once. Be realistic about what you can afford in time and money. That will give you a close-up view and the best information on which to make your decision. Remember as a beginner, you can always grow into the next level.