Hate being stuck playing at one golf course? Some clubs have a solution

Dormie Network’s courses include Ballyhack in Roanoke, Va.  (Dormie network)
Dormie Network’s courses include Ballyhack in Roanoke, Va. (Dormie network)

Summary

Many people can work from anywhere these days. So why not join a club that lets you play golf from anywhere?

Private golf-club membership has long been the sign of having arrived at a certain enviable level of comfort. To join a country club where they know your name, your favorite drink and your preferred tee time is the stuff of many golfers’ dreams.

Yet for many golfers these days, the whole idea of being tied to one club and one course feels limiting. In an era where you can work from anywhere or bounce from place to place with Airbnb, why shouldn’t golf-club memberships be just as mobile?

That is the selling point of a number of businesses that let golfers book tee times at selected courses without being a regular member. In many cases, you pay the business a single membership fee—about what you would pay for a regular club membership—and then you can play at a number of courses that the business has arrangements with. That means you don’t need to pay membership fees at those individual courses—which might run thousands of dollars apiece to join, then more annually—just a fee for every round you play.

A need for green

The pent-up demand for travel after Covid-19 has proved a boon to these mobile country clubs. Golfers love to be on the road, to experience new courses, to meet different people and to connect with like-minded enthusiasts—with no need to be tied to one facility, one routine, one destination for a monthly dues check.

Each of these clubs has a different twist to the model it offers. For instance, NewClub offers its members a chance to play at a combined 170 public and private courses in Atlanta and Chicago, plus another 25 nationwide, without paying membership fees at those clubs. The club, which costs $1,300 to $1,600 to join, plus $315 annually, plans expansions in places including Cleveland and Nashville.

Friars Golf Club (no relation to the New York-based show-business society) has arrangements at 1,100 courses in 42 states and seven countries where members can request—but aren’t guaranteed—access to play, without paying membership fees at those courses. The club, which carries a $1,500 initiation fee, and then $500 annually, emphasizes setting up destination events for its members at both public and private courses.

Access is part of the appeal of these clubs; so is camaraderie. “You meet so many different people from different walks of life," says Lisa Guinn, a consulting CPA out of Bend, Ore., who was the Friars Club’s first female member in 2016. Now she’s one of about 50. “We all have a shared passion for golf and travel," she says.

Dormie Network, meanwhile, owns the courses it offers to members: a network of seven clubs in New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Nebraska and Texas, with temporary on-site residences for members.

Some high-end operations offer concierge services, such as the Eden Club, founded in 1997, which lets members use an undisclosed number of courses without being a member. The club makes arrangements for guests including private jets and five-star accommodations along with golf, and even has its own castle in St. Andrews, Scotland, for members staying at the venerable home of the game.

Building a culture

Epic Golf Club, of Scottsdale, Ariz., offers members access to exclusive private clubs across the country and—to a limited extent—around the world, for a single initiation fee plus annual dues. It also coordinates around 30 one-day and multiday events for its 900 members, with gatherings at clubs like Oak Hill, Olympic Club and Shinnecock Hills, along with bucket-list resort destinations such as Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and Streamsong.

“I have played around a dozen courses I would otherwise have not been able to play, and have made countless new friends who all share the addiction to golf," says Lew Bennett, a private wealth manager based in Fort Myers, Fla., and member of the mobile country club Epic Golf Club.

While Epic doesn’t publicly disclose its fees, club general manager Jaclyn Cummings says, “Our initiation fee and annual dues are similar to those for national memberships at a high-end club."

Members may join by invitation from Epic personnel only, and they must already be a member of one of 1,100 elite clubs in 45 states and 11 countries. Once you join Epic, you have access to other elite private clubs through a web portal. Plug in where you would like to play and when, and the website channels your inquiry to existing members, who handle all local arrangements. You also have the opportunity to host fellow Epic members at your own club.

The result is what Epic founder Noah DiPasquale refers to as “a strong emotional bond of fellow members, who form friendships through their golf hospitality."

The Outpost Club, which started as a concierge service to golfers, has developed into a portable course operation of its own. The club now has 12 full-time employees who handle the one-on-one website requests as well as group outings for the 850 members. Besides access to elite clubs for one initiation fee, benefits include the chance to partake in 70 to 75 annual events, 14 of them international in 2024. As the club has grown, so has its outreach through a foundation that has granted almost $1 million in college scholarships to underprivileged children in the golf community.

Quentin Lutz, one of three co-founders of the Outpost Club, says his group got an early boost from private clubs to host outside play and organized events in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 recession. Golf, like everything else, was hurting economically and clubs, even exclusive private ones, were looking for creative ways to enhance revenue without looking like a public facility.

“We provided an option for them," says Lutz, “while still upholding basic standards of tradition and decorum."

Bradley S. Klein is a writer in Bloomfield, Conn. He can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

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