By Graylyn Loomis
Imagine that instead of arriving at a British golf club in a tour bus and having to ask directions to the pro shop, you walk in, are greeted by name, and have a locker where you keep a pair of shoes, a sweater, and a set of clubs. Instead of an anonymous hotel, you stay for a month or so every year in a rented house or local B&B. And during your annual stay, your best golf buddies come for a week and look to you as the local expert because, after all, this is your away-from-home club.
Stop imagining and join a U.K. golf club! Many golf clubs in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland would love to have you as a member. And the cost? You’ll be amazed at how affordable it can be, in some cases less than a single night at a big American golf resort.
To give you an idea of what’s available, we’ve outlined some of the best deals on the following pages. But before signing up, do your homework to make sure membership makes sense. Check the club’s guest policy, which may restrict how many friends an overseas member may bring. And while not typically the case, ask if overseas members are limited as to how many rounds they can play. Think about how often you’ll visit—comparing membership fees to paying by the round—and whether members are guaranteed tee times during busy periods like the summer when many clubs rely on visitors for income. Also look into added benefits that membership offers, often including discounts at other nearby courses, entrance into local tournaments, and such. And don’t forget the prestige that comes with having a member’s bag tag.
How you apply varies: The process is usually explained on the club’s website, but typically all you need is a checkbook and a few members to sponsor you. The club may even help arrange rounds for you to meet members. But not every club is seeking members.
Just as at home, the UK has plenty of exclusive clubs and others with long waiting lists. If the club doesn’t have a website or have a section on joining, assume its doors are closed to us mere mortals.
Here’s a small sampling of top clubs across the British Isles that offer overseas membership. Poke around and you’ll find many, many more willing to take you in. We’ve also converted all prices into U.S. dollars based on the exchange rate at the time of publication (£1 at about $1.25).
Royal Dornoch: One of the world’s most famous clubs, with one of its highest-ranked courses, charges a $1,177 initiation fee, plus $557 in annual dues, making that $1,734 first-year cost the bargain of a lifetime. Membership also includes reciprocal rounds at area courses and discounts at Castle Stuart among other perks.
Crail Golfing Society: You’re likely not going to get into the R&A, but the next best thing is this club, very close to St. Andrews, that is the seventh oldest club in the world and has two courses. One is a charming classic links and the other the debut design by Gil Hanse. Initiation is $207, annual dues $219, which includes a small assessment for past clubhouse renovations. Membership also includes discounts at a number of other classic Scottish courses.
Ireland & Northern Ireland
Ardglass: This club in Northern Ireland costs $248 for initiation and $310 in annual dues. Membership includes a 50 percent discount on green fees at other North & West Coast Links member courses—including Connemara, Enniscrone, Donegal, Rosapenna, Ballyliffin, Castlerock, Portstewart, Carne, and Royal Portrush—and a Golfing Union of Ireland card that provides discounts on tournaments throughout the country.
Ballyliffin: The most northerly club in Ireland offers an international lifetime membership: Golfers under the age of 40 pay $10,397; under 50, $7,798: and over 50, $5,198. Included are unlimited golf on the club’s two courses, no annual fees or assessments for life, and discounts on other North & West Coast Links member courses.
Woodhall Spa: The Hotchkin course at this two-layout club in northern England is a perennial world top 100. Non-resident membership is $614 with no initiation fee. The only difference from local membership is the guest policy: only one guest per round and only five in one year.
Liphook: A classic heathland course—founded in 1921 and praised by Bernard Darwin in Golf Between Two Wars—is located between London and Portsmouth and costs $560 per year with a $1,256 initiation fee. Membership offers reduced rates for guests and access to all club competitions.