Golf Course Accessibility Across the Globe
Golf is often thought of as an elitist sport. The perception that it is expensive and exclusive fuels this and to a certain extent, these perceptions are true. High-end courses can be very expensive. Compared to other major sports around the world, which are commonly organized by schools or municipalities and played in public places without a membership, golf can be exclusive. However, many courses are reasonably priced, particularly if you look at the cost on a per-hour basis compared to other sports and activities. Even the exclusivity of golf is a bit of an unfair perception. It really depends on where you are located. For example, the vast majority of courses in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand are open for anyone to play. Exclusivity in golf is really only present in North America. The chart below shows the percentage of courses open to the public as well as the percentage of top-ranked courses by a major publication* that are open to the public. We also break down the most accessible and exclusive regions in the world at the conclusion of this article.
100% of the courses ranked as best in Australia by a major U.S. publication are open to the public, compared to only 21% in the United States.
It may be that these perceptions are more prevalent to me because I am based in the United States. I asked a friend from England about how locals perceive golf and was told the sport has made strides in the last few decades. While it was perceived as elitist, this is no longer the case these days since golf in England is on the whole is very affordable and accessible. While there are some astronomically expensive and exclusive clubs in England, the majority charge no more than £1000 per year for full seven-day membership. Many even allow visitors at fairly reasonable prices. Per the above chart, 94% of the top ranked courses* in England are open to the public!
The U.S. may just be a few decades behind other countries when it comes to accessibility, and we hope it will get there. The opportunities to play top-ranked private clubs are becoming increasingly available. Charity auctions, golf societies/communities, and reciprocal networks are all avenues for access. The Golfers Journal and Fried Egg have a total of eight private courses ranked in the top-100 on their 2023 event calendars, including Prairie Dunes, Sleepy Hollow, White Bear Yacht Club, and Kingsley Club. Much of the access to private clubs in the United States are handled by these third parties, unlike in other countries where many clubs follow the semi-private model and bookings are made directly through the club. In the UK, the majority of clubs in our database are semi-private.
Countries currently on the Open Links website ranked from most accessible to least accessible. The semi-private model is prevalent in Great Britain and Ireland, making the best courses in those countries accessible to the public. We plan to expand our coverage more internationally and will update this study in time.
Prairie Dunes is a top-ranked private course in Kansas that is on both The Fried Egg and Golfers Journal event calendars in 2023. Photo: Golf Magazine
As you can see above, the semi-private model has not taken off in the U.S. compared to other countries. In the U.S., rounds at private clubs are still being played at record numbers post-Covid so many clubs do need to open their doors to the public. It will be interesting to see how long the post-Covid golf boom lasts in the U.S. and, if it starts to die down with the looming recession, how many more private clubs will move to the semi-private model.
While third parties are helping thaw out exclusivity in the U.S., a larger shift to the semi-private model will need to be adopted in order to move the U.S. in line with other countries when it comes to accessibility. Less than 25% of the top-ranked courses* in the U.S. are accessible to the public. Increasing accessibility in the U.S. would help diminish some of the negative perceptions of the game and encourage new players to take up the game.
Minimum of 20 courses in the Open Links database
Open Links Website
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