STUDY: Percentage of Public Versus Private Courses in the U.S.
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STUDY: Percentage of Public Versus Private Courses in the U.S.

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STUDY: Percentage of Public Versus Private Courses in the U.S.

Where do you play golf most often? Private courses or the local tracks?

As the number suggests, golf is, at its core, still a game played by recreational golfers on public courses. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2020, there were roughly 16,100 courses at 14,100 facilities in the U.S. Of that total, 75 percent are open to the public: 2,500 municipal and 7,900 daily-fee. That leaves approximately 4,025 courses labeled as private.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Municipal courses are owned by a city or other municipality. In general, so-called “munis” tend to be the most economically efficient option though costs can vary based on your official address of residence. Some noteworthy examples: Bethpage State Park in New York (Black Course) and Torrey Pines (San Diego).

Daily-fee courses accept public play but are generally privately owned. So long as you’re willing to pay the fee and can claim a spot on the tee sheet, you’re in like Flynn. Notable examples: Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach.

Private courses require a membership which often includes an up-front initiation fee and monthly/annual dues. If you don’t belong to a private course, members can typically invite guests, though more exclusive courses tend to limit access to non-members. Notable examples: Augusta National, Pine Valley and the really nice country club you’re trying to justify joining this year.

That aside, we wanted to see how the national statistics measured up compared to the experiences of TheGrint members.

DATA FROM THEGRINT

Quick refresher: TheGrint is an app-based handicap tracker with a multitude of on-course and community features. In addition, TheGrint’s handicap platform interfaces directly with the USGA handicap system. In fact, in many cases, maintaining an official handicap through TheGrint is cheaper than going through a local course.

TAKEAWAYS

The percentage breakdown between public and private courses for TheGrint members is roughly the same as the statistics provided by NGF. Specifically, 77 percent of courses played by TheGrint members are non-private.

Because data from TheGrint tends to skew towards densely populated metropolitan areas, some figures would likely be quite different if we accounted for all rounds played in a given state during 2021. For example, North Dakota (94-percent public) and Minnesota (89-percent public).

The data shows the type of courses played by TheGrint members during 2021. A topic worth exploring might be to compare the existing data with the total percentage of public and private courses in each state. In my home state of Colorado, TheGrint members report playing 22 percent of their rounds on private courses. Depending on your source, that’s a bit higher than the approximate percentage of private courses in the state (15  to 17 percent).

Plenty of possibilities to ponder but I keep coming back to whether golf is as accessible as it ought to be? Thoughts?

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Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris is a self-diagnosed equipment and golf junkie with a penchant for top-shelf ice cream. When he's not coaching the local high school team, he's probably on the range or trying to keep up with his wife and seven beautiful daughters. Chris is based out of Fort Collins, CO and his neighbors believe long brown boxes are simply part of his porch decor. "Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different."

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel

Chris Nickel





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      Turner

      2 years ago

      Man, how did golf accessibility end being about race and entitlement.

      Golf is not accessible to the masses, which is not good or bad, just the realty.

      This topic is a great way to discuss the long term growth of the golf business, which depends on accessibility.

      We gotta take a step back and just read the article and work forward together from there. The zingers can stay away.

      Reply

      Steve C

      2 years ago

      Are you in the US? All our public courses are accessible.. Race doesn’t factor in. Some courses may cost more than others but all are allowed to play. The biggest complaint I hear is pace of play.

      Reply

      Sockosetothegreen

      2 years ago

      True facts. Pace of play is a big problem with us weekend hacks.

      Mat

      2 years ago

      The US has it so screwed up.

      In NZ, every course will let you be a member, but every course will take you as a walk-up. You’re compelled to be a member because they offer regular weekend competitions, all on stableford. This means people pick-up when they’re out of shots, and thus a 5 hour round is totally unheard of.

      US Private courses are hideously expensive, and public courses have no incentive to have a community; they’re just an amusement park where you pay your money and wait in line… shot after shot.

      Need to get a muni to offer memberships at $1500/year for up to 800 people max. That’s enough to run your course easily. Get a few to do it, and you can offer a few comp rounds between the different clubs for variety. And get everyone a number and start encouraging stableford, like the rest of the world. Good players won’t notice, and beginners will not feel as penalised.

      American golf is so, so far behind…

      Reply

      Mike

      2 years ago

      Stableford? Seriously? They play one PGA event every year, maybe. My league has 1 or 2 Stableford events every year out of 26. Oh yeah, that’s right, NZ is the epicenter of world golf. LOL

      Reply

      George Edington

      2 years ago

      I am currently a private club member and I can tell you that you are not guaranteed a 3.5 hour round of golf! One perk to our membership is that is allows you to play 3 other golf courses in the area as well as your home course so you don’t get burned out playing the same course over and over. Since the beginning of COVID, pace of play has become an issue. I grew up caddying and that’s how I really learned the rules/etiquette etc. Those lessons are not being taught any more and the results are showing up on the golf courses. I wish the USGA would roll out the “ready golf” stuff and the “while we’re young” stuff again.

      Reply

      Bill

      2 years ago

      Is golf accessible? Is food accessible? You make a choice when selecting a restaurant to spend your money at. Depending on the value you perceive you are getting , hopefully you make a good decision. If you have plenty of discretionary income that decision might not be that difficult . Selecting where to play golf is very similar, there are many options. Make a wise decision and you will enjoy that round of golf all the more. If said golf course denies you access because of your skin color, please call an attorney, you will own that golf course.

      Reply

      Shock42

      2 years ago

      While interesting, this study most likely skews towards public courses. Private course golfers are more likely to use GHIN (included with some memberships) than TheGrint.

      Reply

      Ned

      2 years ago

      In my area there are several courses most being public. The public courses offer a membership but for green fees only plus a discount on carts etc. Where I use to live all the public courses offered a unlimited membership by the month. This was great all the golf you want at a set price. Especially since my wife plays too. That means double the cost. We play 2-3 times a week so a membership saves us money. In both areas the courses don’t have fees to join. Still hoping to find a course at has unlimited memberships.

      Reply

      Nb

      2 years ago

      Is golf accessible enough is the question. I would say golf is as accessible as it needs to be. If you can afford the fees and equipment.
      Why is there now always a question of why can’t everything be easily accessible to everyone? There are barriers to entry in every aspect of life. Low intelligence people can’t be brain surgeons or rocket scientists, people 5’ tall can’t play center in the NBA. Why is golf or any other hobby/sport/recreational activity any different? I can’t afford an offshore sport fishing boat so Marlin fishing isn’t my hobby.
      It’s all very simple to understand.
      If you want nice things and want to pursue expensive hobbies put the work in to achieve the means necessary.
      I’m tired of hearing about things that aren’t accessible because people can’t afford it.

      Reply

      Pat

      2 years ago

      I couldn’t agree more well put

      Reply

      Jim

      2 years ago

      Interesting perspective. While I agree that everyone can strive to achieve a lifestyle that will afford them discretionary income to use on hobbies like golf, that achievement may be more difficult for some. While I’m sure you understand that, surprisingly, it’s difficult for some to grasp..

      Reply

      Mike

      2 years ago

      Unfortunately we’re stuck in the era of entitlement. I don’t hear anyone complaining about concert tickets. I wanted to see the Eagles…~$250 a ticket. For 2 hour show. Hamilton was sold out of Broadway for months. At $800 a ticket. Didn’t hear the entitlement crowd complain much about that. Golf is always an easy target. I always tell the haters, “golf is a very difficult game, so I understand why you don’t play”.

      Reply

      Tom

      2 years ago

      Play at an upstate NY muni that was built during the depression through the WPA.. The course offers annual memberships for city residents as well as non-residents. A majority of members, as well as golfers in general do not live in the city.

      Reply

      Paul Butler

      2 months ago

      NY State park courses are the best in thr country. I lived in upstate NY. I miss places like Green Lakes and others around Albany

      Reply

      Robin

      2 years ago

      I live in San Jose the most expensive place in America…
      My paid off house is worth 1.4 million. With that, I can only afford the muni 2 x a week.

      Reply

      JB

      2 years ago

      Then you’re doing something wrong. Sell the house, move to one of the least expensive areas in the US and be a millionaire in cash, invest,, join the local private club, play golf all you want.

      Reply

      El

      2 years ago

      Robin,
      I also live in the South Bay, and find SJ muni over-priced, boring, and SLOW.

      You’ll play much better courses (Eagle Ridge1) for the same $$ with Teeoff.com discounts.

      Reply

      T McKinnon

      2 years ago

      To me it is very boring to play the same course continually. Having a private membership, the incentive is to play the same course continually as you are paying monthly dues to play your private course.
      I love playing a variety of courses and enjoy varied golf experiences. I play 20 to 25 different courses during the year and rarely play a course 2X’s back-to-back. Thus, I have no desire to be a member of a private club. and play the same golf course over and over again.
      The Utah Golf Association has golf days at about a dozen private golf clubs
      each year, where an association member can play a variety of private golf courses. This adds to the variety of golf courses I play each year.!

      Reply

      NC

      2 years ago

      Private club is more than golf though. If you are just looking golf, you’ll never justify joining a private club at least where I live. (think pool, socials, private restaurants, tennis, kid’s programs, etc.)
      To me, the people make the round of golf not boring. We have a group of 20+ on a big text group…we play every Tue and Wed afternoon except winter and have a great time with ever changing tournaments, season long points race, bets, etc. not to mention trash talking. Couple that with ever changing pin placements and tee locations, not to mention weather, I don’t get bored at my course. I play it at least 3-4 times a week but sometimes I might only play 5-6 holes; that’s also why I like a private club. Play as many holes as you want.. However, we also play other courses through reciprocals at a highly reduced rate. We just played an exclusive private club for $20 cart included! That’s also an advantage of a private club where I live…the Pro can get us on other private clubs very easily. and many are linked to a private club network. So it depends on what you are wanting. If just golf, I can see your point.

      Reply

      Rhinosparky

      2 years ago

      I couldn’t agree with you more NC.. So many aspects of a private club that get overlooked. Our club has a private lake with a perfectly manicured sand beach, a cantina at the lake with food and drinks and the Cantina a free to reserve for events.
      We have one of the top five courses in the state of Idaho and I have NEVER had a round over 4 hours. Carts are immaculate. Its easy to use our app to reserve a tee time. Our clubs are waiting on the cart as soon as we show up.
      Don’t leave out the social aspect of it.

      Paul

      2 years ago

      I developed my life long love for playing a lot of the public courses in the Ogden area in the late 70s.. I now play in Ohio and have yet to join a private club for all the same reasons you list. Variety is the spice of life.. I still regard those UTAH courses some of the best layouts I have played..

      Reply

      RC

      2 years ago

      All of the City of Los Angeles muni courses (“city” not “county”) are very reasonable for Seniors – $21 to walk during the week – and that includes courses that held PGA and LPGA tournaments back in the day. I’m very happy playing most of my rounds at a Muni.

      Reply

      CJ

      2 years ago

      LA City courses with the dreaded 5 1/2 to 6 hour round that comes with super slow and bumpy greens, where your chances of draining a straight 5 foot putt is about 60/40 as a single digit handicap. The courses get way too much play with no care or maintenance. Rancho Park and Wilson are great layouts but super neglected and abused by the city and the majority of golfers that play them.

      Reply

      NC

      2 years ago

      We have both a great private and public (municipal) course where I live. We live on the private course. Private clubs are more than golf and many forget that. Here are my thoughts on both:
      Private club: We joined ~10 years ago when the economy was down, they waived the initiation fee, and our dues were 1/3 of total. Dues have gone up over the years but still not at full price. I have a family with kids. We love the private club for these reasons: Limited amount of people (public is not allowed to be at the club unless a guest of a member and limited times per year), nice large pool with service that is never crowded, tennis courts (clay) and tennis pro, well-manicured golf course, great driving range (with Titleist driving range balls)/short game/practice bunkers and putting greens, 3–4 hour rounds of golf, we can walk out and play 3-4 holes every afternoon and never see anyone, can play 36 holes on Saturdays with ease, really good food, they put on and take off my cart cover in cold months, same day service on stuff like regrips (often while I wait), demo days from all the major manufacturers, USGA handicap system (app on the phone), lot of reciprocals at other private courses (Pro gets us on just about anywhere at a significantly reduced rate) and most golfers are people who have been playing a while meaning they know golf etiquette. Again, I’m speaking about my private course, not all. Cons: It is a monthly due that can increase, there is a cart fee to ride, there are food minimums to meet, there are still “some” who think they are elite and snobs, private clubs struggle to meet financial goals until recent, board members change-some good, some bad, etc.
      Public Course: Our course is municipal and great! Love the people and the course is fun. I play there 4-5 times a year and is a well-kept fine course. Pro is fantastic and I enjoy talking to everyone there. Rate is around $25 with cart for 18! Cons: It is just golf.. It can take 5-6 hours a round on weekends, many beginners and small kids playing (no issue with that but slows down play significantly), golf etiquette is low and some do not know to let faster golfers through, I get hit more often by misguided balls or wait on someone to hit out of my fairway more often and practice range and greens are not great. That is our course, not saying that’s true everywhere.
      So, it depends on what you are wanting and the priority of those wants. If just golf, then I love our public course and think it’s a great place to play for not much money. If you are looking more without crowds and/or have a family then I love our private club. Also, being a member of a private club does not mean you can’t play other places. We do all the time and our USGA handicap system works on all.

      Cheers.

      Reply

      Birdieman

      2 years ago

      I teach 7th grade AP statistics. If one of my students submitted this for a data-driven insight project I would fail them and send them back to 5th grade geometry. Furthermore, imagine being poor and playing a public golf course in 2022. NFTs, Crypto and stocks all exist. There are a million ways to get rich and I’ve done them all. I would rather go back to teaching 4th grade AP European history then be caught dead at a public track. And this is coming from someone that’s a +4!

      Reply

      RL

      2 years ago

      You are really impressed with yourself

      Reply

      WBN

      2 years ago

      Agree. Don’t know how he found the time to respond to “the other people.”

      Chris Nickel

      2 years ago

      This might be a top-10 comment so far in 2022.

      First, AP classes don’t exist in 7th grade (or 4th grade for that matter). Unless, this is some sort of Doogie Howser, MD type acceleration going on.

      And if we take the statement at face value, you’re an educator, charged with molding and serving as a positive example to our youth – yet, you’re going to fail a student (because that’s well within your right) and send them back two years into an unrelated math class. Makes sense.

      Beyond that, you’re presumably wealthy, yet won’t be caught dead mixing your elite amateur game with the bourgeoisie at the local muni.

      And they say golf has an elitist image problem.

      I’m sure a good bit of this vitriol is hyperbolic nonsense, but nonetheless, as a fella with a couple of decades of experience in front of the chalkboard, I always wonder why some feel the need to give critics needless ammunition.

      Reply

      Mike

      2 years ago

      You must be a joy to be around. I guess it’s arrogant jerk week.

      Reply

      og845guy

      2 years ago

      Joined Private Club here in Central Ohio only because golf leagues at all the Municipals clog the course after 3PM during the week. I work for a living and by the time I would get to a municipal getting in only 6 or 7 holes was super frustrating.

      Reply

      Jim

      2 years ago

      Don’t have a lot of faith in data from TheGrint. Their subscribers represent a small portion of players. Their ranking of college courses was terrible.

      Reply

      Hopp

      2 years ago

      In many cases the use of private courses is a way to limit access by people of color, that still goes on today.. Not as much as it did in the 50s and 60s, but it is still a factor.

      Reply

      Ned

      2 years ago

      Sorry but no it’s not it is about $$$$$$$. If you can afford it your in.

      Reply

      MikeB

      2 years ago

      According to the article, there are approximately 4000+ private courses in the US While there are likely a few that practice “exclusion”, I am betting that it is a quite small percentage, and a brushstroke condemnation is ridiculous. I have personally belonged to two private clubs in my life (am 77), and both had multicultural and racial memberships

      Reply

      Montie

      2 years ago

      “Plenty of possibilities to ponder but I keep coming back to whether golf is as accessible as it ought to be? Thoughts?”

      You research is interesting.

      However, what’s there to think about?
      If you want to play public golf, play public golf.

      If you want to belong to a private club, join a private club.

      Accessible as it OUGHT TO BE??? Says who?

      Reply

      Chris Nickel

      2 years ago

      Yes, those are the two choices – but it’s not that simple. Considering barriers to entry, one should consider how accessible the game is to a variety of golfers. That’s my question. Is golf as accessible as we think it should be?

      Personally, I don’t think it is and when you look legislative measures – such as those recently introduced in California, it’s clear that some don’t see the value in public golf.

      Reply

      James Cowley

      2 years ago

      I played 90 rounds last year and of those 90 only 3 were at a private course (daily fee) the other 97 were at muni courses.

      Reply

      Steve S

      2 years ago

      As usual the number of golfers that don’t have reading comprehension is demonstrated in the comments. Those of you that are question the stats of public vs private failed to understand these sentences…” The percentage breakdown between public and private courses for TheGrint members is roughly the same as the statistics provided by NGF. Specifically, 77 percent of courses played by TheGrint members are non-private.”

      The argument about private club members not using Grint holds little water since many of those folks play more than their home course and Grint makes it seamless and easy to maintain a handicap. Many private course still require you to enter your rounds manually on a computer in the clubhouse. My friends that are club members all use Grint since many travel and play away from home for work and fun. If you can afford a private club the Grint membership cost is like having lunch and a beer at the club.

      Reply

      JIM MOREHEAD

      2 years ago

      GREAT RESEARCH, PRESENT AND PAST .
      I thoroughly enjoy what you are doing.
      Thank you for sharing

      Reply

      Mark C.

      2 years ago

      Hi There,

      I would think that by using Grint numbers this would be skewed. Grint usage would be almost nil for people playing a private course due to in cart GPS and being extremely familiar with a course. TheGrint is great for those of us that play a variety of courses where yardages and hazards are unfamiliar.

      Reply

      Archie Shipp

      2 years ago

      Golf should definitely be more accessible. Ways to do that are more 9-hole courses, more sand greens courses, and of course more municipal courses. Private has its place, of course, for those that can afford them. If nothing else it keeps more slots available on the muni courses and keeps most of us from having to play too many rounds with pretentious jerks.

      Reply

      MARK C MISCHENKO

      2 years ago

      It’s become unaffordable. Here, in Massachusetts, I just canceled my membership in a privately owned daily-fee course as the pricing for unlimited play (w/cart) increased to $3,400. As I retiree, I play 70-80 rounds annually (excluding weekends) … $45-50 per round is TOO MUCH MONEY!

      Reply

      Steve S

      2 years ago

      Move to central Ohio, Mark. Weekday fees for seniors on 5 courses near me average $25-30 with a cart, 16-20 to walk. I play 3-4 times a week. Winter rates start in Nov and usually run thru March and they can be anything from a third to a half off. One course even let’s you on free from Jan thru Feb(walking only). The courses are well maintained and a few rival private courses.

      Reply

      Chris

      2 years ago

      I work at a Resort with a private golf course, but still play muni’s with our golf association. My home course is public, but am fortunate enough to play at our Resort Courses through my work.

      Reply

      Sam

      2 years ago

      Good article. I play at both. Member at private club but play at others on occasion. Start back up No Putts Given- where else am I going to get me weekly dose of unusual but pointed analogies. Love hearing the banter from all of you

      Reply

      Brent

      2 years ago

      I totally get private courses and by having a membership you can afford to build an extremely nice course, keep it in great condition and manage to get around in 3 1/2 hours. I love that. However, it is truly a shame that many of the “best” courses are ridiculously private and will never get to be played or experienced by the public. I have long wished we had more of the European-model of private courses that allow public play on a select day(s) during the week. Thus saving the majority of the tee times for members BUT also giving golf sickos a chance to see and play your course.

      Reply

      Bill

      2 years ago

      Interesting article Chris but not all that surprising. Private investors haven’t chosen northern latitude states like Maine, North & South Dakota, Minnesota, and Alaska for obvious reasons. Perhaps the one surprise for me is that AZ and CA did not make the “highest percentage of private courses” list… I would have thought one or both would.

      Lastly, the study is a little skewed in that “private courses” that are open to public play aren’t really private. I also think in recent years many more private courses are opening the doors for public play in order to remain profitable. This is a great thing for the playing population at large but somewhat muddy’s the course categories.

      Reply

      Brent

      2 years ago

      Numbers probably a little skewed due to most players t a private course get a handicap though the course and would have no use for the grint

      Reply

      Thomas A

      2 years ago

      I live in Southern RI. I play a muni in CT and daily fee courses in CT and RI. It doesn’t make financial sense for me to even have a membership at any of these courses as I’d have to play 3-times a week for the season for it to zero out compared to paying daily. I’m happy that tee times are easy to find here and not very pricey.

      Reply

      Tyler Ryska

      2 years ago

      I’d love to join a private club, but not worth the cost. I’m lukcy if I can play three times a month and most of theprivate courses in Austin cost at least $100,000 just to join.

      Reply

      Dr Tee

      2 years ago

      Your statistics and data are skewed and therefore inaccurate due to several factors: your data applies only to a population using theGrint which is not necessarily representative of the overall golfing population, play in some states is seasonal and not so in others-may affect when public vs private courses are open, there is maldistribution of public vs private in one state vs another, you do not account for “hybrids” where a course has both a private membership and “public” resort play–a frequent model in AZ, Nevada, Utah, and California where a LOT of golf is played. A statistician you are not.

      Reply

      HughMac

      2 years ago

      Not sure you are getting a full representation here. Aren’t the majority of The Grint users going to be people primarily playing public/muni courses? Most members of private courses will be using the USGA app to enter scores/keep handicap, so your data set is going to be skewed towards people who are not members at private courses, thus pushing the number of rounds played at public courses up.

      Reply

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    Tyrrell Hatton Tyrrell Hatton
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