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Take a ‘Permanent Golf Vacation’ in 2023

As Tom Petty once sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.” Those words certainly hold true for private club membership.

In Sun Belt markets in Florida, the Carolinas, Texas, Arizona, and Utah, up to 80% of clubs have waitlists now extending beyond six months. And if you think it’s just the lower-tier properties, think again. A recent survey by Golf Life Navigators revealed that clubs with initiation fees over $90,000 had the longest waitlists.

And for anyone who didn’t think golf could withstand the headwinds of a potential recession, think again. While many economic indicators are pointing in the wrong direction, thus far, the private golf club market hasn’t been significantly affected.

Against this backdrop, what’s a golfer in the market for a private club membership to do? Start with research and lots of it. There are still plenty of options in dozens of markets as hundreds of clubs have responded with new and creative membership categories to meet this unprecedented demand.

Youth Will Be Served

Champion Hills is a private golf club and community in Hendersonville, N.C. If the name sounds familiar, the small town south of Asheville is the longtime home of golf course architect Tom Fazio’s Main Street office. Fazio designed Champion Hills during his North Carolina Renaissance in the late 80s and early 90s, which also produced Wade Hampton Golf Club.

Champion Hills is quickly approaching its full golf membership limit like many private clubs. This, in large part, is due to the club’s foresight in Champion Hills creating innovative, flexible private club membership categories that respond to the current demand from generations X and Y.

A couple of years ago, Champion Hills rolled out its Equity 55 Membership, or “E-55” for short. E-55 was designed to meet the uptick in demand from a younger demographic that discovered country clubs during the pandemic. For many of them, golf – then deemed a safe outdoor activity – was the attraction. For others, it was access to kids’ camps, programming, and amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts.

With E-55, the club’s initiation fee is divided into four equal payments over four years, dues and replacement reserve fund contributions are reduced by 50% and the club’s annual food and beverage minimum is prorated for new members for the first year. Homes for sale at Champion Hills have been few and far between over the past year, but the market has shifted, and more inventory is expected in 2023.

Private Club Membership at Olde Cypress

Associate Answers

Naples, Florida, affectionately dubbed “The Golf Capital of the World,” once had no shortage of private club membership options for newly relocated golfers from points north. Now, local industry experts estimate that around 80% of country clubs in Collier County have waitlists. This is despite the impacts of Hurricane Ian back in September.

The Club at Olde Cypress recently sold out its full private golf membership category. However, the club still offers an “Associate Golf Membership” that affords the same full privileges during the off-season from May through October as well as a set number of golf rounds during the peak season.

According to Director of Membership and Marketing Melissa Hansen, the “AGM” is ideal for golfers transitioning from public or semi-private golf into a private golf club situation or those working full-time and having less time to play golf during the peak season. And rather than just placing prospective full golf members on a waitlist, they can join in the interim as AGMs.

The AGM grants unlimited use of the golf course for those six months for a cart fee only and unrestricted use of the practice facilities year-round. Tee times are available two days in advance – more than ample given the limited number of members utilizing the club during that span. During the peak season (November through April), AGMs are allotted 12 tee times for a reduced green and cart fee.

Olde Cypress’ reciprocal program is one of the most robust in the region. It allows AGMs (and full golf members) to play 40 other private clubs in the area from May through October. Naples-area clubs stagger the days they’re closed in the summer, so all Olde Cypress members have a place to play seven days a week.

Privately owned and operated, the influx of new members at Olde Cypress over the past few years has helped the club reinvest in its future. Its P.B. Dye-designed golf course was completely remastered in 2021 with new turf grass on tees, fairways and greens, and the golf shop and second floor of the 34,000-square-foot clubhouse were updated with contemporary furniture, fixtures and décor.

Rumbling Bald

Semi-Private with Charm

In the golf industry, the saying used to be “semi-private means semi-public.” But as the game strives for inclusivity, a bifurcated public-private business model is overwhelmingly positive. Semi-private courses offer many of the same benefits as private clubs, such as members-only events, seasonal tournaments, golf shop discounts, and member-charge accounts.

Rumbling Bald on Lake Lure in Western N.C. recently dropped “resort” from its official title and has leaned into its persona as a semi-private operation. The 3,000-acre golf panacea is a mountain golf community with two 18-hole golf courses, rental villas and homes, and ample amenities including a spa, tennis courts, and a marina. Rumbling Bald is now positioned as a “retreat,” whether it be for a long weekend or year-round relocation.

On its Apple Valley and Bald Mountain golf courses, members blend seamlessly with vacation rental guests and daily fee players from around the area. The initiation fee is waived for those who sign a 12-month promissory note and monthly dues for both the individual and family memberships include all greens and cart fees and unlimited range balls.

Variety is a big part of the allure of Rumbling Bald. Not only do members have access to 36 holes, but Apple Valley and Bald Mountain serve up two divergent golf experiences. Apple Valley, designed by Dan Maples, features a layout devoid of the usual blind tee shots and uneven lies typically associated with mountain courses. Bald Mountain, on the other hand, makes its way up and around its namesake via numerous doglegs and changes in direction.

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