Toughest Tee Times: America’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs

Insights, Rankings

Toughest Tee Times: America’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs

In past articles, we’ve highlighted the most accessible regions and top publicly accessible courses by famous golf course architects. Now we are moving to the opposite end of the spectrum and highlighting some of the most exclusive clubs in the world. In Part One of our Exclusive Clubs series, we highlight some of the hardest tee times to secure in America. These are clubs with very small memberships and where each playing group must be accompanied by a member. One may even need a special status to play the course, such as being a dignitary or political figure. For this particular list, we decided not to include courses ranked in the major publications (e.g. Augusta National, Pine Valley) because the majority of readers already know about these clubs and their exclusivity. We wanted to showcase clubs that many have not heard about and ones that would likely not allow even the publication raters to play unaccompanied. Here are 10 of the most exclusive clubs in America:

Annenberg Estate at Sunnylands – Rancho Mirage, CA

This intensely private, nine-hole, Dick Wilson-design in the Coachella Valley is not your typically private club. In fact, the directive of the Annenberg Estate is to use the 200-acre property for “generations of high-level national and world leaders seeking the privacy, the peace, and the pause needed for solving the most pressing national and international issues.” Without an invite from the President of the United States, one may never have the chance to tee it up here. The public can visit the Sunnylands via guided tours (tickets start at $55 per person) but teeing it up at the course is another story.

Former POTUS Barack Obama just misses a putt between meetings at “Camp David West”. Photo: Fore Magazine

Cherokee Plantation (Yemassee, SC)

Cherokee Plantation sits across a 7,000 private sanctuary one hour east of Charleston, South Carolina. There are rumored to be less than 20 members at Cherokee Plantation. If you are one of the privileged families to receive an invitation to join the club, the initiation fee costs a cool $1 million. In addition to the Donald Steele-designed 18-hole golf course, there is also an equestrian center and resident Hunt Master for fishing and shooting activities onsite. In fact, despite the very small membership, it is said that up to 50 employees service the club so one could have quite a few people waiting on them if they were ever lucky enough to visit.

Due Process Stable (Colts Neck, NJ)

Due Process, located 45 minutes south of Neward, is both a private golf club and working equestrian center. The club was founded by Robert E. Brennan, a securities broker who spent an estimated $40 million to create the course and club and was later convicted of investor fraud. The club was recently bought out by a small group of members that made the club even more exclusive than it had been in previous decades. The lucky few who have been able to play the course say the conditioning is impeccable.

Ladera Golf Club (Thermal, CA)

The newest club on our list is located south of Palm Desert, California. In fact, this is the first new golf course to open in the Coachella Valley since 2008. Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner designed the course for famous music producer Irving Azoff and membership is said to be capped at 50. There is also a daily maximum of 25 players (with eight players allowed on site at any given time) on this former 300-acre citrus ranch. In addition to the 18-hole regulation course, there is also a nine-hole short course.

A playground for one of the most powerful people in the music industry. Photo: Sports Illustrated

Morefar Back O’ Beyond (Brewster, NY)

Morefar, just north of New York City, is unique in the sense that it is owned by a company and not a membership or a single wealthy individual. Starr Insurance, formerly part of AIG Insurance, owns the club and access to the course is only open to employees and their guests.  The course rarely sees any play. In fact, just two groups in a single day would be considered a busy day at Morefar. Large walls surround the exterior to keep unwanted guests off the property and the course itself is littered with odd bronze statues. There are rumors of limited charity outings held at Morefar, which may be your best way to experience the course if you can’t find a C-Suite employee at Starr Insurance to extend an invite.

Sanctuary Golf Club (Sedalia, CO)

Sanctuary, located south of Denver near Castle Rock, is perhaps the hardest tee time to get in Colorado. One can only get on through an invitation from owner David Liniger or as part of one of their very pricey charity events. If one is lucky enough to play the course, they will be treated to jaw dropping views of the surrounding mountain range. The course is true to its name: there is no development within nearly a one-mile radius of the golf course.

You’ll likely see more elk than people if you’re ever lucky enough to tee it up at Sanctuary. Photo: Sanctuary GC

Starr Hollow (Tolar, TX)

Marvin Leonard, Ben Hogan’s mentor and founder of Colonial Country Club, purchased the 4,000-acre Starr Hollow ranch in the 1960s and created one of the most exclusive clubs in the country. There may or may not be any groups playing on the nine-hole course on any given day, but the course is kept in pristine conditions nonetheless. Starr Hollow is said to have one of the most unhurried, premium golf experiences anywhere in the Lone Star state. While only nine holes, there are two flags on each green to give players a different look and feel each loop. Starr Hollow remains a working cattle ranch to this day.

The Links at Fisher Island (Miami Beach, FL)

The only way to access this course is to play with someone who owns property on this seven-acre island just south of South Beach. It’s arguably the most exclusive course in South Florida, a region known for its exclusive clubs (e.g. Seminole, Indian Creek). The island includes a private beach, yacht club, and even an aviary for its resident members. Although the course is named after Carl Fisher, it was actually William K. Vanderbilt II who acquired the island and made it into what it is today when he traded Fisher his 265-foot yacht straight up for the island.

One of the most exclusive islands in America. Photo: Fisher Island Club

Vineyard Club (Edgartown, MA)

Located on Martha’s Vineyard, Vineyard Club was originally designed by Donald Steele in 2002 but redesigned by Gil Hanse in 2015. The membership is small and consists mainly of people who are in town for a brief summer vacation. The club claims to be the world’s first organically maintained golf course, and the initiation is said to be north of $500,000.

White Oak Plantation – Dye (Hilliard, FL)

Anyone can actually play White Oak…so long as they are willing to donate $1 million to the White Oak Conservation! White Oak Plantation is located on the Florida/Georgia border north of Jacksonville and was one of Pete Dye’s final designs before he passed. There are no members or amenities, which makes it unique on this list.

The Dye Course at White Oak was awarded the 2022 Best New Private Course award by Golf Digest. Photo: Brian Oar

If you are ever able to secure a tee time at any of the above courses, consider yourself very lucky! While some are ranked by major publications, the Discovery Land properties are also very tough tee times to get and likely the most exclusive network of private golf clubs in America, if not the world. If there are any uber exclusive clubs that we missed, leave a comment below.

Stay tuned for Part Two of our Exclusive Clubs series, where we will dive into U.S. clubs who only permit men to play.


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