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How much does it cost to play a round of golf or to be a member of a club?

Golf has always had a hard time shaking its reputation as an elitist sport. Most people associate the game with high earning lawyers, doctors and business people who make deals on the course and talk politics in the clubhouse.

Joseph McMahon
Joseph McMahon
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - MARCH 31: Alex Smalley of the United States plays his shot from the 13th tee during the second round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on March 31, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas.   Mike Mulholland/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Mike Mulholland / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

One of the greatest golf movies of all time poked fun at the elitist members of the fictional Bushwood Country Club. Harold Ramis’ 1980 comedy Caddyshack mocked the jet set at a private country club where it was the “snobs against the slobs” - a contest which of course the underdogs won in the end.

Fortunately for the average golfer there are many more affordable options than country clubs like Bushwood. It’s not necessary to be a millionaire like the characters Judge Smails, Ty Webb or even new money construction mogul Al Czervik, played by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie. There are courses for budgets where everyone is welcome, even caddies and ditch diggers although prices have risen over the past year. Some golf clubs made a profit in 2022 while others are struggling just to stay alive.

Affordable golf options

For most weekend golfers becoming a member at a club can be quite pricey. If you only play once or twice a week it’s not worth paying an annual membership and weekend green fees can be very expensive. Many public courses offer affordable green fees to players for approximately $20-$35 depending on a number of factors - nine or 18 holes, the time and day you want to play. Carlton Oaks Country Club in San Diego, where Phil Mickelson played growing up, lists prices for 18 holes at $32 dollars on weekdays (non-peak). Additional costs include cart fees (from $10-$20) and club hire (from $12-$20).

Many clubs also offer promotions or discounts to seniors, juniors, veterans and law enforcement employees. Prices at all courses go up if you have to rent clubs or a cart so walking is definitely the healthy and economic option for those playing on a budget. We’ll look at equipment and prices in another article.

Playing budget-friendly courses doesn’t limit you to golfing on beat up tracks or goat ranches, as some experienced golfers might call courses that don’t meet certain standards. If you can travel to other regions and play Monday to Friday, some of the country’s top courses have 18-hole rates under $50. For example, Sleepy Hollow in Cleveland, Ohio offers off-season green fees between $15 and $26. On the East Coast in Hartford, Conn., you can play Keney Park for $49.

Become a member

Becoming a member at a club is another way to keep prices more affordable, depending on the course and the amount you play each month. There is a wide variety with a lot of competition and many factors come into play such as location, type of membership (individual, family, corporate, etc.). One example we found is Caledonia near Myrtle Beach where annual fees are $1895 for a single golfer aged 40+, and members pay $30 per round. You would have to do some math here, but if you played 50 rounds a year, that would come out to nearly $68 per round compared to daily rates between $100 and $200 during the year, without considering membership advantages such as unlimited practice facility use, 20% pro shop discounts and 10% discounts on food and beverage in the clubhouse.

Expensive courses open to the general public

You don’t need to belong to an exclusive country club to be able to play some of the best courses in the world. Golfers with official handicaps and £295 (around $300) can play the Old Course at St. Andrews, the home of golf, where the British Open has been played 30 times. You must sign up for a tee time lottery or register with an official provider, but it is possible to play the same course where golf’s legends have played.

A round of golf at St. Andrews is still cheaper than some of the other Open Championship venues - for example, Muirfield: £325, Turnberry: £475 and £315 at Royal Troon.

In the U.S. there are many public and private courses where major golf tournaments have been held that allow golfers to walk on and play. One of the most beautiful golf resorts on the West Coast is Bandon Dunes in Oregon. The resort has six courses, five of which are ranked in the top 15 of Golfweek’s modern courses. Green fees range from $50 - $350 depending on the course and the time of year.

Exclusive country clubs

And yes, golf can be very expensive and there are private country clubs that have waiting lists making it nearly impossible to become a member. One such course is Augusta National in Georgia where the Masters is played every year. Although the initial membership fee is ‘only’ $40,000 with yearly fees quoted at “a couple thousand”, it’s not an option for most individuals without friends in high places.

There are some things that money can’t buy and a membership at Augusta National is one of them. Most of the top private golf clubs in the United States are similar and it takes more than money to join. The Chevy Chase Club (no relation to the actor who played Ty Webb in “Caddyshack”) in Maryland is listed at No.10 on Forbes’ top 20 Ranked Country Clubs in America for 2021-2022. According to an article in the Washington Post the initial fee to join is somewhere around $80,000 with annual dues of $6,000.

Information about membership fees and dues is not easy to find as it is not published on most clubs’ websites. Some clubs require members to own a house on the course and others are rumored to have initial fees around $325,000.

Surely you can find a happy medium between your local municipal course and Augusta National because that’s what makes golf great, it’s a sport just like any other and your level is reflected in your handicap, which allows the playing field to be leveled so golfers of different abilities can play against each other. We’ll try to explain golf’s handicap system another time.