How To Choose The Right Golf Course To Join

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.

Fort Myers Country Club

Fort Myers Country Club

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.

Augusta National 12th Hole - Jones Redesign

Augusta National 12th Hole – Jones Redesign

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.

  15 comments for “How To Choose The Right Golf Course To Join

  1. Charlotte Fleet says:

    I like that you explain that as much as you look online the best way to choose where you would like to play is by visiting the course. My boyfriend has been wanting to get into golfing for a while now but hasn’t known where to start. I think we should try and find some golf clubs near us that he likes and can see himself learning on.

    • Pat Mullaly says:

      Good idea. But remember to choose the right tee box when playing. If you are both just learning, choose one of the front tees. It used to be “red” tees were only for women and seniors…. but that has changed. “Play it Forward”, a program developed by the USGA is trying to get all golfers to play from the tee box that is right for their handicap. Ask your club pro for their advice. As you improve at the game, your handicap will drop and you will move to a tee box for more experienced players.

  2. gus white says:

    I want to start golfing, so I am looking for the right golf course. It is helpful that you mentioned that you should check if they have a store with what you are wanting to buy for your golfing trip. When I look for one, I will be sure to check if they have a store.

  3. Charlotte Fleet says:

    I never knew that taking size into account was so important when choosing a golf course, I guess I didn’t realize the difference between the regulation 18 holes versus a shorter 9 hole course. My boyfriend loves to play golf when he is away for work. I will have to let him know he should use a golf directory to choose a good course for him and the right size for the time he has free!

  4. Taylor Bishop says:

    Thanks for the interesting article about golf courses. You mentioned that private courses usually need to accept a candidate to become a member. Maybe it could be good to learn if different courses have different methods for having a candidate accepted.

    • Pat Mullaly says:

      Good suggestion. Some golf clubs require a vetting process for new members – a meet and greet event, recommendations from other members… can take a while and be rather intimidating. But if you like a private club, have friends or business associates who are members and will “vouch” for you… joining a private club can be a great step for you.

  5. Joy Butler says:

    You did a great job of explaining the two types of golf courses. It really helped when you said that in joining, first impressions do count. I think this really matters as well as the schedule and membership fees.

  6. Elsa Anderson says:

    I wanted to thank you for your suggestions for finding the right golf course to join in. I totally agree on the part where you stated that you have to visit and check the golf courses to see which truly matches your needs and wants. I am an amateur golfer myself, and one of the things that I consider in looking for a golf course to play on is the overall cleanliness and the completeness of facilities and amenities. In doing so, I have to immerse myself and play even for once to identify which place I will be most comfortable playing. I will certainly make a note of these tips as I check each of them at my most convenient time. Thank you for sharing these!

  7. Deb Pearl says:

    My husband really loves going golfing and has been wondering how to choose the right golf course to join. I think that is a good idea to look at the clubhouse and see if it is in good shape or not. That would be a big indicator to see if the course is well maintained or not. We will have to look around. Thank you for the tips!

  8. Top 10 Golf Irons says:

    Spot on. but one more thing I want to add is the behavior of the staff. Indeed, you enjoy more of a well maintained course and that’s why its crucial to choose the best golf course.

  9. Ashley Maxwell says:

    Thanks for your comment about how you should choose a golf course that has the features you really value. I like how you said that it should be well maintained and clean. My husband and I are looking into attending a nice golf course with masters hospitality.

    • Pat Mullaly says:

      Hi Ashley. I just returned from a two week golf media tour – played six courses in both Hilton Head, SC and at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach in Alabama. Am putting together a couple of articles on the experience. I can easily recommend Kiva Dunes in Alabama as one of the best. You should look into that one for sure.

  10. Marcus Coons says:

    It really helped when you mentioned how you need to consider how the grounds around a country house are maintained before choosing a golf course. I can see that doing this can help you enjoy your games and the scenery provided by the owners. My brother is looking for a good country club to join and play golf, so I’ll share your page with him to help him choose the best he can.

    • Pat Mullaly says:

      It may seem like a minor issue when choosing a club to join, but if they treat their club house and course well, it’s a good sign the club will treat its members with consideration.

  11. Alex Dean says:

    It’s good to know that when it comes to choosing a golf course, that I am clear about what I want. Like whether or not if it is a public or private course. That way we know that it will provide the right amenities that we are looking for.

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