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December 2016


Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Island, SC
  December 2016  Caledonia Golf & Fish Club,
Pawleys Island, SC

Semi-Private Clubs & Their Costs

A wide variety of semi-private membership plans are available. Below we list a sample of such club plans in the Southeast region, including the course designer, initiation fees (where applicable) and monthly dues for a full-family (couples) golf membership. If you would like more information on any of these or for details about other private and semi-private plans at the scores of golf communities we have visited, please contact me at editor@homeonthecourse.com.

River Strand Golf & Country Club, Bradenton, FL
Designed by Arthur Hills (27 holes)
“Bundled” with purchase of home
Dues $112 per month

RiverTowne Country Club, Mt. Pleasant, SC
Designed by Arnold Palmer
Initiation fee $2,000
Dues of $342 per month.
*Membership includes add-on play at Snee Farm or Dunes Club; add on both courses for small up-charge

Tidewater Golf & Country Club, Longs, SC
Designed by Ken Tomlinson
No initiation fee
Dues of $225 per month
*”Couple” is any two players

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club & True Blue Golf Club
Pawleys Island, SC
No initiation fee
Dues of $217 per month
*Unlimited play on both golf courses: $25 green fee

Cedar Creek Golf Club, Aiken, SC
Designed by Arthur Hills
No initiation fee
Dues of $245 per month
*Family cart plan $3,675 per year
Play at Aiken Golf Club included

Cypress Landing, Chocowinity, NC
Designed by Bill Love
No initiation fee
Dues $258 per month

The Club at Viniterra, New Kent, VA
Designed by Rees Jones
No initiation fee first year
$1,000 in second year
Dues $150 per month

Old Trail Golf Club, Crozet, VA
No initiation fee
Dues of $245 per month
*Dues info as of 2015

Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg, VA
Designed by Pete Dye & Palmer/Seay
Initiation fee $30,000
Dues of $516 per month
*Host to 2017 LPGA Tour event

Spring Creek, Gordonsville, VA
Designed by Ed Carton
Initiation fee $2,000
Dues $350 per month
*Members play at private Federal Club for no greens fee

One Membership, Many Courses

Many individually owned golf courses, especially those in competitive areas, have merged into groups since the recession of 2009. Those groups of courses that are accessible to the general public offer annual memberships that provide for deeply discounted rounds of golf and other extras. The following three in the Myrtle Beach area reflect trends elsewhere, although nowhere is the competition for the golfer’s dollar more intense than along the Grand Strand.

Prime Times Signature Card

$225 annually, green fees as low as $33.
Access to 22 golf courses, including Pawleys Plantation, TPC Myrtle Beach, Grande Dunes, Pine Lakes...
Free round after as few as two paid rounds.
$50 pro shop credit.

Platinum Golf Membership

$119 annually, most green fees do not exceed $40
25 golf courses participating
$100 gift card included, can be used for green fees, merchandise...

Myrtle Beach Golf Passport

$49 annual fee, deep discounts at 80+ courses
Competitions with total $45,000 in prizes
Discounts at restaurants, pro shops

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

If you live anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line, winter has arrived.  And if you are like me, the act of shoveling your driveway or putting on the carpet in the basement has you longing for warm weather and the freedom to play golf outdoors.  So this holiday, why not give yourself a gift and at least start your search for a golf home in a state that is not only warmer, but also much more low cost than where you are likely to be living now.  Drop me a line if you would like to schedule a free one-hour phone consultation on which golf areas in the South and which golf communities match your requirements.  My email address is: editor@homeonthecourse.com.

And Happy Holidays.


If you would like more information about any of the communities listed above, or dozens of others we can recommend, please send me a note at editor@homeonthecourse.com

Semi-Private Country Clubs:
Sometimes It's Good to Share

In our last edition of Home on The Course, we described the various private golf club options available to those moving to golf communities. In general, private club memberships are more expensive than those in semi-private clubs and provide much less financial flexibility. In my experience, private club members pay about three to four times as much in annual dues as do their semi-private counterparts, on average. The semi-private members never have to worry about selling their memberships when it comes time to move on. (Some private clubs enforce these “mandatory” memberships on their residents.)

For many who desire the perquisites of private country club living, a semi-private club will not be enough. By definition, a semi-private club is “public” since outside play is both permitted and encouraged. That means that many of those who play the course are not “invested” in it, resulting in un-replaced (or sanded) divots and pockmarked greens from unfixed pitch marks. Semi-private members often do not get to know their fellow members since golf is the predominant reason for belonging and few other activities are sponsored; however, some semi-privates do an especially good job of promoting men’s and ladies leagues and events. But, overall, there is little in the semi-private club experience that replicates the fully private club experience. Yet for those willing to share “their” course with non-members in exchange for bargain golf and a few considerations such as advanced tee times, club storage and still being called “Mister” or “Missus” by the club’s employees, and who may not find the personal nature of country club living worth the cost, a semi-private membership is a viable alternative.

Here are some things to consider when identifying a semi-private club to join:

Do semi-private clubs charge an initiation fee?

You probably have read plenty of articles in the last few years about the troubled golf course industry, peppered with course closings and related bad news (e.g. retailer Golfsmith’s recent bankruptcy). Many golf industry officials believe oversaturation of courses, as well as a falloff in play since the recession, are the culprits. Whatever the root causes for golf’s doldrums, semi-private/public clubs have become much more competitive as they fight for discretionary dollars and, indeed, for their survival. Many of these clubs have waived any initiation fee in order to attract dues-paying members and bring more predictability to their balance sheets. Our advice here is to do research to identify those clubs that do not charge an initiation fee, play the courses to make sure conditions are not suffering, and then compare them to the best semi-private clubs in the area that do charge a fee. If you are only an occasional golfer on whom the nuances of golf course architecture and stimpmeter readings are lost, then the no-fee approach may make the most sense. Or, perhaps, not joining any club makes more sense (see below).

Does your frequency of play justify the costs?

One of the best and worst pieces of advice I was ever given early in my private club membership days was, “Don’t do the math on how much each round is costing you.” At that time, I belonged to a wonderful private club in Connecticut, my son was learning to play the game and my wife and daughter used the pool at the country club; membership seemed like a good deal, although monthly dues had reached the $750 level. I only “did the math” on the per-round costs after my son went off to play college golf and my wife and daughter stopped going to the pool. My one round of golf every week or two cost more, based on my monthly dues, than a round at Pebble Beach cost at the time, $450. I resigned my membership.

I’ve run the numbers at no-initiation-fee clubs for customers who are open to either public (pay as you go) or semi-private plans, and generally the break-even point is somewhere between two and three rounds per week on average. But sometimes the savings are much more dramatic. As an example, take the vaunted Pawleys Island, SC, courses Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club, always rated among the top five courses in the entire Myrtle Beach area. A current annual membership for the two clubs combined costs $1,895 for a single and $2,595 for a couple; there is a nominal charge of $25 per round for members. Generally, the average round at Caledonia costs the public about $100, even with some of the area’s annual discount programs. (In peak season as much as $180, in the coldest months of winter and hottest in summer around $80). Considering the single membership, a player looking to play twice a week at Caledonia and/or True Blue would pay the $1,895 for initiation fee and $2,500 for 100 rounds of golf, for a total of $4,395 for the year, or about $44 per round, quite a savings compared with what the package golfers and other “walk-ins” pay. (One caveat: These are popular and heavily trafficked golf courses where rounds can occasionally extend beyond 4 ½ hours and a strategy to book tee times in advance is recommended. But it is hard to contemplate a better golf course tandem than Caledonia and True Blue among the 100 total courses in the Myrtle Beach area.)

Although Brunswick Forest’s Cape Fear National golf club offers a plan similar to Caledonia’s, it also offers a more traditional plan, one in which green fees and cart fees (!) are free with the membership, which costs $6,000 for a single member and $8,500 for a couple (no initiation fee). Annual green fees, cart included, average around $75 at Cape Fear, or $7,500 for the year for the non-member who lives locally (higher for non-locals). In this case, the break-even point for a member is just under two rounds per week. It is a good deal for a fine golf course but, again, no one would argue that it is a private club experience.

How frequently will the semi-private course be closed to member play?

Semi-private clubs, by their nature, have to work harder to sustain themselves financially than do private clubs, whose income is more predictable (exclusively from dues and member expenditures rather than from green fees). That means the semi-privates tend to be more open to outside events that generate extra income than are private clubs where, typically, they will host events only on Mondays, when the club is closed. Our advice in considering a semi-private club is to check the annual calendar to see if the club entertains many outside events. If such events will bite significantly into the times you can enjoy your own club’s golf course, consider joining a private club or playing pay-as-you-go golf.

Are revenues from public play plowed back into maintenance of the course?

This, of course, is one of the easiest things to determine about the semi-private course you are contemplating. Play the course and check out the conditions. Turf doesn’t lie. Certainly, it is wise to remember the caution in stock market investing: “Past performance in no indication of future performance.” If you are in any way skeptical about future conditions at the course you choose (because of changing ownership, local competition among courses and other possibilities), do not join a club that charges an initiation fee; or if you must, join one for which the initiation fee is refundable upon resignation (although these are few and far between at semi-private clubs).

Do reciprocal golfing privileges extend the bargain?

If you like variety in the courses you play, the number of courses that come with your membership can be a make or break factor. Starting just before the recession in 2009 and accelerating since then, some firms have begun buying up clusters of golf courses in popular golfing areas and merging them into single, comprehensive memberships. Pay a modest annual fee and you have access to all courses at the lowest green fee rates available. In the Myrtle Beach area, for example, the Chinese-owned Founders International now owns 22 golf courses, some of them considered among the very best on the Grand Strand, such as TPC Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Plantation. Purchase the Founders Prime Time Card for $225 annually and you receive discounted golf at all the clubs, as low as $33 per round; free rounds after as few as two paid rounds; $50 in pro shop credit; and special low guest rates.

At Spring Creek, a well-regarded public facility in Gordonsville, VA, between Richmond and Charlottesville, members pay an initiation fee of $2,000 and monthly dues of $275 for a single member and $325 for a family. That is a little pricier than most semi-privates but the extra attraction at Spring Creek is full reciprocal privileges at the private and outstanding Federal Club near Richmond, about 40 minutes away. In-season rates at Spring Creek range between $80 and $125, depending on the day of the week. If you can fit in two rounds per week between April and November, and don’t mind a few drives to Richmond each month, you will feel as if you are a private club member at a public course price.

In the attached sidebar, we list country clubs, most of them located inside the boundaries of golf communities, that offer alternatives to private club memberships at substantially lower prices. Please contact us if you would like more information about any of these fine clubs and communities. 


Larry Gavrich
Founder & Editor
Home On The Course, LLC



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