Joining a Private Golf Club

Three Things You Should Consider Before Joining a Private Golf Club

Joining a Private Golf Club like olde cypressThe global pandemic had several unlikely by-products.

One of those was its impact on the golf industry, not only in terms of participation (which swelled to record numbers) but golf real estate as well.

Golf course communities that were hanging on by a thread in 2019 all of a sudden found themselves flush with buyers and prospects in 2020.

And at the heart of many of these communities were private golf clubs that went from trying to find new members to having waiting lists to join almost overnight.

Fast-forward to the end of 2021 and the start of 2022 and thousands of people are still searching for their first golf course home and private club membership.

For many of these would-be buyers, the private club world is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, surrounded by an enigma, as the saying goes.

To help with your search for the perfect golf lifestyle, here are three things you should consider before joining a private golf club. 

  1. Ownership

Colliers Reserve Naples FLThere are essentially two types of private club business models. The majority of clubs in Southwest Florida are member-owned and operate as non-profit social clubs. A small percentage are privately-owned and operate for profit.

So what does this have to do with your membership? A lot. If you join a member-owned club, you’re effectively becoming a stakeholder. And with that comes the responsibility of making collective decisions for the club, like what to spend money on, and when.

Member-owned clubs typically have a president, board of directors and several committees that provide governance. Capital improvements at the club are usually paid for through initiation fees, capital reserve funds or assessments (i.e. when each member comes out of pocket, equally, to finance the project).

Privately-held clubs might be owned by an individual, an LLC (limited liability company) or a corporation. When it comes to upgrades and repairs to the golf course, clubhouse and physical plant, ownership foots the bill.

Southwest Florida, like most markets, consists primarily of member-owned clubs. Especially with all the golf community build-outs we’ve had over the past 20 years. Collier’s Reserve Country Club in North Naples and Pelican Marsh Golf Club just to the south are examples of member-owned clubs.

Joining a Private Golf Club in Naples FLThe Club at Olde Cypress, located just east of I-75 off Immokalee Rd., is an example of a privately-owned club. Its P.B. Dye-designed golf course reopened in November following a multi-million-dollar remastering funded by ownership that includes new grass for tees, fairways and greens, as well as new bunker sand and practice facility amenities. Olde Cypress’ 34,000-square-foot clubhouse was also updated with several interior spaces being refreshed.

Just around the corner, Vineyards, one of Naples’ largest golf communities, and Vineyards Country Club, which features two 18-hole golf courses, is also privately owned.

There’s no right or wrong ownership structure for private clubs; both have a unique set of considerations and benefits. It comes down to which is the best fit for your budget, personality, risk tolerance and new golf lifestyle.

  1. Organization

Pelican Marsh GC Naples FLNext to ownership, a club’s organization is also a major consideration when evaluating membership. And clubs are inexorably linked to their surrounding communities in a couple of ways. 

Bundled Communities, for example, are a popular golf community model throughout Southwest Florida, and a concept those hailing from points north may not be familiar with.

Simply stated, a bundled community is one in which golf club membership is included when buying a home. Oftentimes, they don’t require an initiation fee (or it’s substantially lower than a traditional golf club), and members pay slightly lower monthly dues.

Every homeowner is a member, and bundled communities often have upwards of 1,000 or more homes. Because of the higher number of members, tee times can be scarcer, especially at prime times like weekend mornings. They can be a good fit for casual golfers who like to play a few times a month.

Then there are “compulsory” or “mandatory membership” communities for which some level of membership is required upon purchasing a home. Conversely, some private clubs require that members live in the community.

  1. Types

Private Country Clubs Naples FLThere was a time when most clubs offered two or three levels of membership: full golf, associate golf and social. Full golf provides unfettered access to tee times, practice facilities, and tournaments. Associate golf usually has restrictions on golf utilization. And social excludes golf but offers access to the clubhouse, dining and other amenities.

Nowadays, you’re likely to find national membership for those living outside a certain radius, vertical membership covering up to three generations, and membership targeting certain demographics, like 55 and under.

Private club membership directors throughout Naples, Estero, Bonita Springs are Fort Myers are wonderful resources when it comes to membership types, so don’t hesitate to grill them with all of your questions. Joining a private golf club can be one of the biggest – and best – decisions a golfer can make.

Shane Sharp


Shane Sharp is a golf writer and owner of the content marketing firm Southbound 4 based in Greenville, S.C. He grew up in Naples and still considers the Paradise Coast his home away from home.