Whether or not you happen to be a member of any private clubs, you are probably aware that there are many different types of such golfing retreats.
You've got your garden-variety "home clubs" - located in more heavily-populated cities and suburbs, these are the clubs where folks play the vast majority of their golf over the course of a year.
Then there are "national clubs." Often located a little more off the beaten path, their members (often bringing guests) visit a handful of times per year; they drive or fly in, stay on-site in stand-alone or detached cottages for long weekend here, a week there, and pretty much do nothing but play golf in the daylight hours. Augusta National is the most famous of these clubs.
Other noteworthy members of this category include Chechessee Creek (near Beaufort) and Musgrove Mill (north of Columbia) in South Carolina, Old Memorial (near Tampa) and The Hideout (Naples) in Florida, and the likes of Ballyneal Golf Club in eastern Colorado, Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Nebraska; and The Olde Farm in Bristol, Virginia.
If you've ever visited a national golf club, you know it's one of the great pleasures in the game. Not surprisingly, the high cost of such a membership is not an option for many golfers.
That said, there are ways to lay out a golf trip of your own that will simulate the three main components of the national member experience:
- High-quality, repeatable golf. Many golf trips revolve around playing as many courses as possible. But if you find an awesome stand-alone course, why not play multiple rounds and get intimately acquainted with it? It'll end up feeling like home by the end of your stay.
- Stand-alone accommodations. The buzz of a grand hotel and resort can be fun sometimes, but if you're there to play golf, why surround yourself with amenities you're not going to use? After all, you can bet that their maintenance and upkeep will be part of your expenses, whether or not you use them.
- A feeling of seclusion. Golfers with a healthy wanderlust love the feeling of seclusion at times - like theirs is one of only a couple groups on property. That makes the golf course feel more like a private playground.
We've been doing some research and have come up with 7 golf courses where you can get that national golf club feel at a fraction of the investment:
Note: Most of these courses are parts of residential communities, but their out-of-the-way locations give them all a calmer vibe. If/When you visit, you will feel more part of the scene than a second-class citizen.
Bay Creek Resort - Cape Charles, Virginia
Yes, this facility has "Resort" in the name, but its location on the southern tip of the Delmarva peninsula and its all-cottage/home style of accommodations helps it tick the most important boxes for a DIY-national-club experience. A bonus: not one but two fun courses, by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, respectively.
Cutter Creek Golf Club - Snow Hill, North Carolina
One trait of many private national golf clubs is walkability. This is tough to find in public-accessible courses, as many of them have a real estate component that often keeps the golf course layout from being reasonably walkable. Not so for Cutter Creek, which is located in Eastern North Carolina, just under two hours from both Wilmington and Raleigh. The Bob Moore-designed course has a reputation for great service, excellent conditioning and incredibly low rates: $60 to ride on weekends, $50 to walk. And its accommodations come in the form of 3-, 4- or 5-bedroom cottages.
Rams Hill Country Club - Borrego Springs, California
Rams Hill is located within the borders of San Diego County, but any familiarity with that metropolis ends there. The club sits in a high-desert landscape about two hours northeast of the airport. That makes it a perfect spot to get out of Dodge and dedicate a few days to golf. The Tom Fazio-designed course is regarded as one of the best in the state, in spite of its non-mainstream location. Stay-and-play packages are available for nearby hotels, but for the true experience, rent one of the private homes on the course and take advantage of the discounted green fees for those wishing to play multiple rounds at Rams Hill.
Limestone Springs Golf Club - Oneonta, Alabama
Oneonta is situated just under an hour north-northeast of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, making it a perfect mix of "near enough to get to easily" and "far enough away to feel secluded." And the Jerry Pate-designed Limestone Springs, a 4 1/2-star-rated course by Golf Digest, is easily a strong enough layout to merit playing three, four or even five times in one stay. Speaking of the stay, Limestone Springs is home to a golf cottage that holds up to 8 - perfect for a one- or two-foursome golf retreat.
Juliette Falls - Dunnellon, Florida
With all the high-volume golf destinations in Florida, a place like Juliette Falls, about 20 miles west of Ocala, is easily overlooked. This fact is part of its charm: the course, designed by John Sanford (who worked under Jack Nicklaus), excels in scenery and intrigue, with many admirers lauding its conditioning and quiet feel. The club welcomes guests to stay in single-family homes on property, many of which come furnished with swimming pools. Juliette Falls extensive practice facility makes it a perfect place to hone your game for a few days.
Quintero Golf Club - Peoria, Arizona
Many golfers are familiar with Quintero, ranked as it is at the top of Golfweek's "Best In State" list for Arizona. But they usually play it as part of a more involved itinerary, where they're staying closer to the center of the action in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Few visitors are aware, though, that Quintero has a handful of homes available for rent for a few days. If you fall in love with Rees Jones' thrilling layout, why not hunker down for a couple days?
Kinderlou Forest Golf Club - Valdosta, Georgia
If you've got a group of at least four players looking for a few days' relaxation and plenty of golf, the Davis Love III-designed course at Kinderlou Forest is well worth playing a few times over. A former Web.com Tour host venue, the course is plenty challenging and, at 7,700 yards from the back tees, plenty long for anyone. The club has a group of four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot-townhomes set aside for visitors.