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Going Clubbing

If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it.

Posted July 13, 2009

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What's it like to seek membership in an elite New Jersey golf club in these days of recession bargains? We asked a local businessman (who shall remain nameless) to share his search results as he inquired about joining a top club. Here's what he found:

I figured I might as well start at the top, so my first inquiry was at the venerable Somerset Hills Country Club. The membership department politely but firmly informed me that no information would be forthcoming without an introduction from a current member. They don’t seem to be hurting, so I cut my losses.

Plainfield Country Club has always had one of my favorite courses. The waiting list used to be about a year. My sense after talking to them was that you could get in more or less immediately if approved, at which point half of the non-refundable $45,000 initiation fee is due. There’s also a $15,000 bond that you can eventually recoup should you decide to leave. Then you’re looking at almost $11,000 annually between dues, assessments, and the food minimum. I’m working on the wife as we speak.

Sure, Donald Trump rubs some people the wrong way, and not every course in his portfolio is the gem he would have you believe, but Trump National Bedminster is world-class—and, with the opening of its New Course, it has the advantage of sporting 36 holes. The membership department is friendly and responsive…and realistic. When the course opened, the non-refundable membership fee was $250,000; it’s now $150,000 and can be paid over three years instead of all at signup. Annual dues are another $18,500, plus a $1,500 food charge. Of course, if that stuff factors into your thinking, this big-money club is not for you. It sure seemed like they’d be happy to have me join ASAP.

I had heard rumors that our state’s major-championship venue, Baltusrol Golf Club, was suddenly tapping into the waiting list. My inquiry was met with a rather stern reply that included the phrase “please know that Baltusrol is a private club”—um, duh—and that you need to know eight members for at least three years to garner entry. You have to speak to a member just to get info about the admissions process. So maybe they’re not as needy as I hoped. In any event, with a little digging I found out that the initiation fee as of last year was $90,000, and dues set you back about another $9,000.

Like most private clubs, Hamilton Farm Golf Club has several levels of membership: These are local (reside within 50 miles), regional (outside 50 miles), and national (must live outside the state and the five boroughs of New York City) running $150,000, $75,000, and $25,000, respectively, with annuals of $18,500, $9,500, and $4,700. Half the deposit is due upfront, the other half on your eighth anniversary. (Must be someone’s lucky number.) After your 30-year membership term expires, local members get back their 150K. I heard through the grapevine that the club was offering a one-year membership trial for $35,000—a sure sign they’re looking for members.

Decisions, decisions….


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