It’s showtime in New England!

   After a winter of discontent it’s time to lumber up, limbo down and show off what we have invested in our golf game. Did you shell out $400 this winter for a new driver? Does that utility club need an upgrade to the tune of $100? Or, did you dive steeply into your bank account, and make that mother of all golf commitments – join a private club?

   Not too long ago the image of John Q. Public Golfer was the guy who showed up with jeans at the course, Reeboks, a shirt from Ocean State Job Lot without an emblem, balls from K-Mart, a ball retriever in his bag, and an awkward loop in his backswing that said the over/under score for 18 holes is 95, and the sure bet is to take the over! 

   Given golf’s highbrow status among recreational sports, it’s expensive to play and very expensive to join a private club. A private country club golf membership is going to run in the thousands. Lots of zeros are needed to pay monthly golf-related bills, all for the sake of chasing those elusive birdies and pars. 

   The National Golf Foundation (NGF) claims 26 million participate. And, NGF figures show that private club golfers play at a higher frequency with 50-plus rounds a year compared with 15 for public golfers.

   The foot soldier of the game and the most important man in golf is John Q. Public Golfer. He sometimes gets up at 5 in the morning, to wait two hours to play a five-hour round, to pay a $60 green fee, to lose $20 in bets. The heart of the game is still the shot-and-a-beer, blue-collar hacker. Guys like Tim Geary are golf guerillas. He doesn’t need anyone to clean his cleats because he loves the game for the game. It’s Saturday, he’s golfing, and he’s going to gripe!

   Comedian Lenny Clarke likes to say, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I like rich better.” Well, I’ve been a public course player and a private club member, and I like private better. Yes, it’s pricey, but I’m lovin’ it!

   Everything about a private club is better than a public club. The tees, ball markers and range balls are free. Weekend tee times are a breeze. The hot dogs are better and the beer is colder! I love it when the pro shop staff says, “Good Morning Mr. Gorman! Will you be walking or riding today?”

   The numero uno ingredient at a good private course – the amenities. You pay to play. It’s great to sharpen your game on the range whenever you want, if your club has a range. For no additional fee, many private clubs offer swimming pool, tennis court, dining room and discounted function room rental.

   If you pay $3,000 annual dues to play golf at a private nine-hole course in the suburbs like me, you expect perfection. What do I get for three grand? Well, last year the course received some nips and tucks, the dining room was renovated, the locker room is new and I played less than 30 times. Doing some fuzzy math, that’s about $100 a pop!

  In two club tournaments I entered, the camaraderie was memorable, and it sparked a new friendship, which I otherwise would not have engaged. But, what better way to end a long summer work-day than with a round of golf, burger, beer and then watch a ballgame on a big-screen, high-def TV?  You’d be hard-pressed to find a golfer walking off the 18th green at Norfolk Golf Club who thought they’d been ripped off by the annual $3,000 dues. My home club is not extravagant, doesn’t have a driving range or beautiful cart girls, but the beverage business and socializing at the 19th hole is brisk, even on rainy days!

  In most cases, joining a country club is not exactly living the high life. Members are not snobs; they don’t all drive a Beemer, live off the family trust fund or carry a single digit-handicap.  A good private club will combine lush fairways and greens, with clubhouse attendants offering courteous top-notch service, looking everyone in the eye, and ending each conversation with a proper greeting and a smile.

   Private membership has its privileges! But, unfortunately, it hasn’t made me a better player! Whether your preference is public or private, I am constantly reminded that golf is still a good cart ride spoiled!



(Tom Gorman, a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, International Network of Golf and Golf Travel Writers of America, is a Boston-based freelance golf writer.)