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Monday, February 21, 2011

Not for members only: This is not your father’s “private” club anymore...or yours

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        The “official” recession may be over, but don’t tell that to private golf clubs.  A reduction in membership rolls has them scrambling to make up for the income they once counted on from dues-paying members.  From old and established clubs like Country Club of Farmington (CT) to those less than a decade old, like the The Members Club at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach (SC), the definition of “private” has been expanded beyond “members only.”

        I recently learned that the venerable Farmington club, whose first holes were laid out in the Connecticut village in the 1890s and whose 18 holes designed by Devereux Emmett opened for play in 1924, had agreed to make some tee times available to Boxgroove.com, an online service

Although it was unpretentious, CC of Farmington was always for members only, and their guests.

whose members have access to dozens of private clubs across the country.  Farmington is a wonderful parkland style golf course, which puts a premium on placement rather than length, although the second hole could be the toughest par 3 in the state (long, uphill, three-tiered green that must be hit and held on your tee shot or a bogey or worse is assured).

       Farmington’s club itself is unpretentious, with a roster of amenities that includes only a couple of lighted platform tennis courts and the aged, but comfortable, clubhouse, and no pool.  If you want to warm up on the practice range before your round, show up early; the range is as far from the clubhouse as you can get, near the 9th green and 10th tee (but the great little snack shop at the 10th tee, along the Farmington River, serves an outstanding lobster roll).  I hope the club permits the Boxgroove players to linger after their round on the deck between the clubhouse and first tee; nowhere will you find diners and golfers in closer proximity, just a few feet from each other.  It makes for a pressure filled opening tee shot and the occasional catcalls from one member to the next.

        Although the Boxgroove arrangement removes the “strictly” designation from “strictly private,” Farmington still requires two members to vouch for an applicant for membership.  Some traditions die hard.

        The Members Club at Grande Dunes, next door to the more established Grande Dunes Resort Course (by Roger Rulewich), hardly had time to establish any traditions before the recession hit and put the brakes on membership applications for the new club and its golf course, designed by Nick Price and Craig Shreiner. On my first visit to the private Grande

Private no longer means "members only."

Dunes club three years ago, it was clear developers Burroughs & Chapin’s strategy was to establish the most exclusive golf club on Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand.  When I drove up and dropped off my bags, the bag attendant cautioned me to change my shoes in the locker room, not in the parking lot; forecaddies were required of all players who preferred to ride in a cart rather than walk with a caddy.  Today, the forecaddies are gone, and The Members Club is accepting package play from selected local hotels.  According to a local source, members of the golfing public will likely gain access to the interesting course that runs along the Intracoastal Waterway if they call ahead and sound like the kind of person who won’t change his shoes by the trunk of his car.

        Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the desperate measure in the world of private golf clubs is to change the very definition of “private golf club.”

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Larry Gavrich

This blog was conceived and is published by me, Larry Gavrich, a former corporate communications executive who founded HomeOnTheCourse, LLC, in 2005.  Our firm advises baby boomers and others seeking a lifestyle in which golf is a major component.  My wife Connie and I own a home in Connecticut (not on a golf course) and a condo at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, on a Jack Nicklaus layout.  We began our search for our home on the course more than 15 years ago, and the challenges of the search inspired me to research golf communities and write objective reviews of them.

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