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We have receive our fair share of side-eyed stairs in our lifetimes. That’s right, we aren’t strangers to being out of place. And never are we more out of place then when we play the many private golf courses we get the opportunity to play each golf season.
We are nobody special, not even to our mothers.
Our status cards say no status and our business cards are non-existent. We don’t have seven or six figure incomes, we have no job security, no benefits, no pension contributions and nobody knows our names. Our connections run as deep as getting a free ride home from a buddy and maybe a free cup of coffee at our local bar after drinking too much beer.
But we still get to play a large number of private courses each year.
And if we were able to travel more — none of us here are comfortable on planes — we’d play even more of these private courses.
Inevitably, the question we get asked nearly every time we play at one of these places is how we “gained access.”
We don’t like to call it “gaining access,” though. We think that understates our accomplishment because we’d probably be booted from the courses we get to play based on appearance alone. Yet the doors to these courses open up for us and those who meet us always walk away happy to have met us.
There are easy ways, difficult ways and time consuming ways to get to play these exclusive courses. You won’t get on every course you want to play, some courses will cost you a decent penny, may force you to take a caddie or forecaddie or will not be available to play on the exact dates you are looking to play. Worst of all, however, is you may be forced to drink way less beer than you usually do.
And even though, like us, you may not fit in, you might have to try, at least for a day. Always be polite, courteous, respectful and follow the rules of the golf courses you get to play. Not fitting in doesn’t mean being an a&%hole.
So without further ado here’s the lowdown in no particular order.
15 SECRETS TO PLAYING PRIVATE GOLF COURSES
1 | USE SOCIAL MEDIA
This is a newer method of finding ways to play at private golf courses, but being “golf active” on social media can lead to exactly those kinds of opportunities.
What we mean by being “golf active” is talking about golf, meeting and following people who share a like interest in golf, participating in golf communities like #golfchat on Twitter and simply meeting people online by replying to their posts and actively engaging with them.
Many people interested in golf on social media are members at golf clubs around the world. You never know who you might meet and, if there’s one thing about passionate golfers, it’s that they are always looking for a good game, and by good game we mean cool people to play with. That can lead to an invite to a private club you otherwise would have never received.
And don’t be afraid to make a call out. If you’re going to be traveling, and you know you follow or interact with people in the area, tweet about it. Say something like, “In Chicago next week looking for a game…anyone up for a round?” Sometimes you’ll end up meeting someone for a round at a public course, other times you may get lucky enough to meet someone who is happy to have you out to their club.
A course we played this way – Berkeley Hall, South Carolina
2 | BECOME A WRITER OR START A BLOG
With the quality of golf writing being so shite and uninteresting nowadays, it may actually be easier to become a decent golf writer than a golf blogger. Neither is particularly easy by any means (blogging is just easier), but either will work. And save the comments about our writing being shite for someone else, we don’t care.
It’s no secret that golf writers, golf journalists and well known golf bloggers receive invites and opportunities to play golf courses others do not have a chance to play. In today’s economic state, many private clubs are struggling to set themselves apart or to gain new members so a good article or blog post in exchange for a round on their golf course can be in the cards at many private clubs.
Of course, the more you write the more golf clubs and members at golf clubs will notice you. The more they notice you the more enticing it will be to have you out for a round if they think it will gain exposure for the course and help out the club.
All that said, it’s not enough to just start a blog. The content has to be engaging and different somehow.
A course we played this way – Kingsley Club, Michigan
3 | ASK YOUR PRO
If you’re a member at a golf course, private or public, ask your pro if he/she can holler at the golf course you’re looking to play and arrange a tee time.
The vast majority of professionals within the industry are friendly with one another, even if they’ve never met each other. Your pro might not be able to get you on to the most exclusive and private courses, but it never hurts to try.
Don’t abuse the privilege, however. It’s not something you should be asking your pro to do every week or even every month for that matter, and your pro probably won’t do it so often even if you ask that often. Once or twice a year when you’re going on vacation, away on business or if your golf course is closed for the day is a good guideline.
Be sure to give your pro all relevant information to make it easier for them. Info such as the golf course location, pro’s name, email and phone number, etc., makes your pros job a lot easier.
Also ask about reciprocal agreements. Most private and some public golf courses have reciprocal privileges at other golf courses. These tend to be more numerous with local clubs but generally most golf courses will have a handful of clubs outside your home region where play can be arranged.
A course we played this way – Capilano Golf Club, Canada
4 | BECOME A GOLF COURSE RATER
Ahhhhh, the elusive golf course rater designation. You’ve heard of them but probably never seen one in the wild.
It’s not easy to become a golf course rater, but if you are adamant enough and have a passion for golf course architecture, you should be able to become one.
Golfweek, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine have ranking programs in the US and of course Canadian Golf Magazine does national rankings in Canada (there are others as well).
Your best bet to becoming a rater on any one of these panels is to first become familiar with their process and rankings. Then you would look to contact the editor responsible for the ranking program directly to inquire and make a case for you to become a rater.
Each ranking panel functions differently and requires different things from their raters. For example, Golf Digest requires you hold at least a 5 handicap and Golfweek generally requires you to attend a raters retreat every so often and visit a minimum number of priority courses each year. Canadian Golf Magazine requires you to play a certain number of courses anonymously through your own natural playing season. Our understanding is the most difficult panel to crack is the Golf Magazine panel.
5 | MAKE FRIENDS
Network. Talk golf. You’ll be surprised how many people you already know that are members of a golf course or that know someone who is a member of a golf course. Another situation where you can’t be afraid to ask the question and then ask to have them take you out to their club.
A course we played this way – Fenway Golf Club, New York
6 | SEND THE GOLF COURSE A LETTER DIRECTLY
This tactic works well for some of the more exclusive golf courses. Show them that playing their golf course was important enough for you to take the time to put pen to paper and send a letter the old-fashioned way.
A letter simply asking to play probably won’t get you far; do your research. Learn about the golf course and its history. Have a reason for wanting to play the golf course more than just wanting to play the golf course.
We have used this method to play a handful of golf courses we’ve all wanted to play back to when we were youngens on our local driving ranges, which for some of us consisted of a bucket in our backyards with a shag bag.
A course we played this way – Cal Club of San Francisco, California
7 | JOIN FORUMS AND DO HOME-AND-HOMES
As an extension to making friends and using social media, join golf forums and do home-and-homes. Even if you’re not a member of a golf course, offer to take someone golfing and pick up the tab in trade for an opportunity to play at their private club.
Many golf course members like to show off their golf course and home-and-homes are an added benefit.
A course we played this way – Kirtland Country Club, Ohio
8 | CHARITY EVENTS
This method has been covered to death everywhere you look on the internet including in all the major publications. The reason is that most of these charities pay for the exposure to their event. Nevertheless it’s a valid way to play some of even the most elite golf courses in the world. Apart from that, you get to contribute to a worthy cause.
The more exclusive the golf course the more hefty the contribution requirement. The easiest way to find these events is a simple google search.
A course we played this way – Eastward Ho!, Massachusetts
9 | STAY IN HOTELS/RESORTS THAT ALLOW ACCESS
Many hotels and resorts around the world offer access to private clubs in the area. Examples of this include the Ritz-Carleton at Reynolds Plantation (Georgia), Wequassett Resort/Cape Cod National (Massachusetts), Red Sky Ranch (Colorado) and others.
A course we played this way – Hershey Country Club, Pennsylvania
10 | JOIN WEBSITES WITH PRIVATE CLUB ACCESS
Websites like Boxgroove let you access different private golf courses through affiliated clubs or by requesting tee times through members who are also on Boxgroove and members of golf courses. Some requests will require you to upgrade your membership to a paid version, but many do not.
Other sites like GolfNow and Underpar sometimes have special offers that allow you to play at private clubs, and even better, for discounted rates.
A course we played this way – Point O’ Woods Golf & Country Club, Michigan
11 | SOME PRIVATE GOLF COURSES OFFER PUBLIC PLAYER TEE TIMES
Outside of North America the private golf course model is very different. In places like Australia and the UK, private golf courses welcome non-resident play during specific times and on specific days of the week. It’s as simple as calling the golf course or looking up their policies on their websites.
A course we played this way – The Carnegie Club, Scotland
12 | SOME PRIVATE GOLF COURSES OFFER OFF-SEASON PLAY
Some private golf courses open up the golf course to public play for limited access during the off-season. We will leave it up to you to discover which courses these are, but some google prowess is all that is required to figure it out.
A course we played this way – Bigwin Island, Canada
13 | TAKE A TEST DRIVE OR TRIAL MEMBERSHIP
For those interested in joining a golf course your local clubs will generally be more than happy to let you “test drive” the golf course before making your commitment. In addition, many golf courses now offer 1-year trial memberships where you can be a member for the year for just the annual dues and then you can even take advantage of playing their reciprocal clubs offering even more opportunities to play other private clubs.
A course we played this way – NONE. We aren’t member material anywhere.
14 | WORK IN THE INDUSTRY
This isn’t all that much of a secret. Part of being in the industry is making friends with others in the industry. Apart from that you may have golf course accounts or know pros you went to school with, etc. This opens up opportunities.
A course we played this way – Ballyneal, Colorado
15 | PLAY IN AMATEUR GOLF LEAGUES
Various amateur golf leagues across the continent play at exclusive golf courses. For example, The Golf Channel AM Tour will play private courses like Lake Merced (San Francisco), Plum Hollow (Detroit) and Firestone (Akron). The GTA AM Tour in Toronto, Canada will play Coppinwood and Devil’s Pulpit.
A course we played this way – Devil’s Paintbrush, Canada
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