When it comes to golf, playing the most vaunted private clubs may be worth the price.
The National Golf Foundation says approximately 25 million people currently play golf at private clubs, public courses, and resort courses. And while each category has its share of great experiences, it’s golf’s most exclusive private clubs that define the sport.
The definition of “exclusive,’’ however, is a moving target. It can mean an initial membership fee of above $500,000, like at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. Or, it can mean prestige, as with clubs such as Augusta National Golf Club, Seminole Golf Club, and Shinnecock Hills. Each is said to have a membership price tag that begins around $250,000.
But the actual value of membership is in the eye of the beholder. At Augusta National, it’s a bargain at any price, because getting “in” is by invitation only, and, with membership limited to 300, spots for new members are rare, to say the least.
The haunting pine barrens of New Jersey are an unlikely place to find what is generally considered the country’s best golf course, but that’s where rugged Pine Valley was built in 1913 by founders George Crump and Harry S. Colt.
The club opens its gates annually for the final round of its fall Crump Cup tournament, but even then, access is limited. The club did make news earlier this year when it announced removing “gender-specific’’ language from its bylaws.
If you’re looking to golf with celebrities, try Seminole Golf Club and The Grove XXIII in Florida; that’s if you can get past the front door. Each club guards its grounds like a Florida panther protects her cubs. However, Seminole President Jimmy Dunne recently peeled back the curtain by allowing two televised events, including the 2021 Walker Cup.
Some 20 miles north of Seminole, The Grove XXIII is the newest addition on the exclusive club list. Even if it wasn’t owned by NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan (XXIII, get it?), the club would still make the cut because of its outstanding Bobby Weed design that includes a 20-acre practice facility — touted as the world’s best — and high-profile members such as PGA superstar Phil Mickelson. Weed created a pristine course with a double-helix routing that can be played in four, nine-hole combinations, thus allowing for fast play. The ultra-modern clubhouse adds to The Grove XXIII’s posh aura.
Weed said his inspiration for The Grove XXIII came from Shinnecock Hills, which opened in 1891. That invitation-only club is among the most guarded in the country when it comes to its membership, but the course is the epitome of early American design. How good is Shinnecock? The U.S. Open has been played there five times over the past three centuries, with a sixth scheduled for 2026. Now that’s some really exclusive company.