This space has always been dedicated to the traveling golfer, those who have the time and inclination to stroll the Emerald Aisle, grab a high-quality National Rental Car vehicle and enjoy some of the finest public-access and resort facilities in the city or state under discussion.

However, there are also some four thousand private golf clubs coast-to-coast, and these are among the most desirable golf destinations in the country. The age old problem: how to access a tee time at a club that generally doesn’t allow public play? There are ways to get inside the gate, or beyond the velvet rope, so to speak. Here are a few tried and true methods to access a private club that you’ve heard about, always wanted to visit, but for whatever reason, haven’t been able to ‘crack the code.’

Play in a charity golf event. Scores of the nation’s most exclusive and desirable private clubs (not to mention a few thousand others that aren’t on that same elite level) open their doors a few times a year, sometimes more than that, for respectable charities. All in all, there are about 140,000 charity golf tournaments held annually in the United States. Keep eyes and ears open, perhaps even call the course in question to ask about their outing schedule, and donate money to a worthy cause while enjoying a worthy venue. Everybody wins.

Write a letter. This strategy comes under the time-tested maxim: “If you don’t ask, you’ll never get. If you do ask, you might.” A well-worded, respectful letter to the GM or head professional might yield an invitation to a club you’ve long admired, but never had the opportunity to visit. In fact, making that very thought the gist of the letter might pay dividends.

Augusta National

Volunteer at a tournament. This could be a professional event, or even a charity event that needs parking attendants, scorers, registration table personnel, etc. When signing up for a position, inquire if there’s an opportunity to play the course after the fact. Oftentimes there is, as it’s an incentive to attract the cadre of people needed to make the event run seamlessly. (Believe it or not, this gambit even works at the Holy Grail of private clubs–Augusta National. The problem: procuring the week-long assignment as a Masters volunteer is almost as difficult as getting tickets to the tournament itself–lots of competition!)

Ask your golf pro to make a call on your behalf. If you are a member of a private club, your head professional will often have contacts with colleagues at other private clubs. This could be one of several different clubs in a city you’re planning on visiting, or a specific club that’s on your radar. In either case, your own pro can be instrumental in opening doors on your behalf that might otherwise be closed.

Get on a rating panel. There are three major course-rating panels in existence: GOLF Magazine (very hard to crack, only one hundred golf industry ‘movers and shakers’ allowed), Golf Digest and Golfweek. The latter two have turned into minor revenue streams for the magazines. They charge a fee to join, or insist raters continue their education by attending retreats and seminars, which have an associated cost. However–for those who love golf course architecture and travel regularly, (raters are required to rate a certain number of courses annually, and in areas beyond their home city and state) this can be an effective way to gain entree to otherwise hard-to-access private clubs.

Use your network. Seems obvious, but you never know who you know that might know someone associated with a club you’ve wanted to visit. If we can believe the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory, where everyone on earth is connected within half-a-dozen points of contact, it seems logical that a friend, or worst case, a friend of a friend, will know someone at a club you’d like to play.

Join an online reciprocal program. There are websites that endeavor to match private club members with clubs they might want to visit elsewhere. There are even options for those who aren’t affiliated with a private club. There are the no-cost signup options, and then the ‘premium’ memberships, that presumably afford access to a wider range of higher-caliber courses. Visit or to learn more about this melding of old-fashion (who you know) and newfangled (everything is just a few clicks away) techniques to visit the private club of your choice.

Veteran golf and travel writer Joel Zuckerman has played 900 golf courses in more than 40 states and 15 countries. The eight books he's written to date include two named as Book of the Year by the International Network of Golf. In addition to his books, he's also contributed to more than 100 publications, including virtually every major golf magazine. He lives in Utah and Georgia.


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