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Paying to Play

Looking for the ideal private club to join? Try these strategies before you write that first check


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 » Find the club nearest your home and the club nearest your work. Just as the best fitness resolutions crumble in the face of I-25 slowdowns, you’ll find that easy access yields more value. 

» Before you call, look at the websites. If you find a 1990s-style webpage with no pictures, or one picture and a box that says “member log-in,” it’s safe to assume you’ll have to find a backdoor in. “Some clubs are just full and they don’t need to tell you more,” says Jason Murphy, president of the Mile High chapter of the Club Management Association of America. “The website is only there for directions, and what their dress code and guest policies are. That’s all they want you to know.” A vibrant, informative, engaging site like Murphy’s Pinehurst Country Club’s muchmorethangolf.com, on the other hand, invites you to call. 

» Check the annual “private clubs” guide in Colorado Avid Golfer magazine (free at golf courses) for initiation and monthly fees, so you know your budget qualifies. 

» Now call your candidates and ask for the membership director. If you get a “sorry but no thank you,” you have called the wrong club. Says Murphy: “If some guy just showed up from out of town and wants to join Cherry Hills, it’s not going to happen.” 

» If you do talk to the membership director, you will want to find out what amenities the club offers aside from golf; whether the club is member-owned or corporate owned; whether the initiation/entry fee is refundable and if so how much of it; is there a waitlist to exit; what the monthlies are and whether there is a food and beverage monthly minimum; what other fees you might be expected to pay, such as caddie fees, cart fees, golf club storage fees, collective gratuity fees, and fees for the fitness club programming; if the club is member owned, when was the last assessment and what was it for; what are the tee-time access policies for family members; at what age children are dropped from your membership; does the club remain open and active all year; and, finally, what is a fair description of the culture of the club. 

» Next, you visit. Notice the shape of things, says Mile High CMAA managing director Cortney Murphy. Seeing shabby carpet or a pothole-filled parking lot? “Those would be some red flags” at member-owned equity clubs, Murphy says, because you may have to buy the new carpet or asphalt. 

» Let the wooing process begin. Every club goes about this differently, maybe sending you out on your own for a round of golf, or escorting you, or having you play with members. 

» Expect the next step, vetting, to be more rigorous at the more exclusive clubs. You may have to attend 15 cocktail parties hosted by members, or play in five events. At the very least, expect a criminal and financial background check, although the for-profit clubs owned by a corporation or individual may waive even that if you brought your checkbook. 

» Muster up that initial fee. If you’re under 40, you might pay less, or pay less just for now and then close the gap later. You might have to pay part of the fee now and part in six months, or the club may finance it over several years. 

» Be prepared to hang around awhile. Remember, it’s a buyer’s market. 

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Susan Fornoff

Susan Fornoff has covered U.S. Opens and the Masters for the San Francisco Chronicle, written two golf books and founded GottaGoGolf.com, a website and newsletter for women golfers. She recently relocated to Littleton, and hopes to play all of Colorado’s 10 toughest golf courses – from the most forward tees.

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