One of the biggest questions and disagreements in the sport of golf is whether one should play public courses or join private clubs. There are a lot of people that love both. Some people just don’t want to commit to playing the same course every single day; they want to play all the courses in their area and get full value every day for the course they are playing. Other people want to see the same people, play the same course, and get the same product every time they go out, and that is okay too! Both groups have different wants and needs, so they are very different things. But let's get into the nitty-gritty about both, as both hold much value in this marketplace. I want to help you answer whether you should get a membership or stick to your local public courses.
Private courses have a lot of positives, especially if the money isn’t an issue. The cost of a private club is the main detractor for me. Can I afford a private course, and will I play the course enough to make it worth it? So what are the benefits? At the right course, you can always count on tee times to be available, you get a relatively similar experience each time you play, and you can expect an equivalent level of upkeep each time you play the course. This is huge if you are a business golfer, you can take clients out to your course and not be embarrassed by your choice of course. You can expect a similar experience every single time, and that's important. Another big thing, in some private courses, you can always get a tee time and not see a single player. On some courses, you don’t even need a tee time; just show up, head to the range, hit balls, and head to the course and not see very many groups. This is important to me, just showing up and being able to play and a good pace of play. The pace is the most important thing to me, and private clubs usually keep a better pace of play than public courses. At a private course, the staff is paid to get to know you; you aren’t just another face; you are a family member, which is valuable to some people. Getting to know the staff, seeing the same faces every day, and knowing they care about you is excellent. Another plus about private courses is they usually have deals with other private courses that let you play as a guest at another private course. A course you otherwise may not ever get access to. Being a private club member gets you more access to other private clubs, and you can always play the public courses around you.
There are many more public courses than private courses, and other than your incredible top-of-the-line places, your public courses are usually a little cheaper than private ones. Public courses are great because you can get a lot of variety between what courses you play; you can play long wide-open courses, or short tight dogleg courses that require precise placement. This variety of courses can be significant to some people. However, each of these courses has different levels of maintenance, and you’re never quite sure what you are going to get in a variety of different ways. You never know if that course is going to be in good shape, you never know if you are going to show up to a booked tee time and the greens are punched, you never know how many people will be there. Profit is king, and a public course has a minimal product (tee times) it can sell each day. A public course will try to maximize profit by adding more tee times, which means grouping them tighter and tighter. Once you get below 8-minute tee time intervals, it will be pretty slow on every hole if they are filling out the tee sheet. Most public courses won’t hire a marshal to work on weekdays; some don’t care about weekends either, so there is no pace of play enforcement. You can be left staring at 6 to 8-hour rounds. The pace of play is essential to me, and I won’t be staying at a course that long. Six holes in two and a half hours will not work for me, which has happened to me before on a Thursday afternoon round at a local public course. Private courses never let that kind of thing happen.
The most significant factor that will decide whether public or private is your area. What public and private courses are in your area that you can play? Are there any private courses that you enjoy playing? Are there some great public courses? If there is a fantastic public course and you don’t want to commit to a private course and pay that monthly fee, then a public course is excellent! However, if there are some great private courses, you may want to go in that direction. In Dallas, there are many fantastic private courses, some good public courses, and some semi-private courses, which are another great option. I love the private courses in my area. Vaquero, Trinity Forest, Timarron, Trophy Club, Stone Bridge, Stonebriar, Castle Hills, and Las Colinas Country Club are spectacular courses I would love to play every day. Any one of those courses would work for me to join as a member if l had the money. However, there are some great public courses, Grapevine Municipal, Sky Creek, Cowboys, and Texas Star; they are fantastic tracks to play when you have free time. I could see myself playing these regularly.
In conclusion, it does depend on your circumstances. I wish I had a membership at a solid private course where I could play 18 holes a couple of afternoons a week to keep up my game and play virtually whenever I want. Still, my cash flow situation cannot hold onto a membership at a private club at the moment. However, if you aren’t trying to play three times a month, a membership at a club probably isn’t worth it for you. You have to weigh the cost. If your membership costs $500 a month and you play five times a month, that's a $100 green fee each time you play. Is that worth it for you?