The 10 Most Exclusive Golf Clubs in America
The Masters run April 3-9, 2017. As golf fever sweeps the country, we dug up this gem from our archives. The article originally published July 28, 2015.
Need a place to close a deal? These 10 golf courses would be perfect — if you can get in. These elite courses — members include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Charles Schwab — have top-tier service and miniscule acceptance.
1. Augusta National
Where: Augusta, Ga.
The Course: Designed by golf legends Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, the home of the Masters frequently tops lists of the world’s greatest courses.
The Clubhouse: Augusta’s clubhouse has the desk of member and former President Dwight Eisenhower and a replica of the Masters trophy.
Membership: Augusta’s 300 members feature the cream of the crop, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The course has no application process. Gates was kept out for years because he had the gall to publicly admit that he wanted to join. Even if you were invited to be a member, your initiation fee would cost upward of $250K, with yearly dues of at least $10K.
Perks: Augusta’s members receive the famous green jacket upon induction. It cannot be removed from the course, however, so it cannot be used for bragging.
2. Cypress Point Golf Club
Where: Pebble Beach, Calif.
The Course: Another top-rated course by Alister MacKenzie, Cypress Point features three holes that play alongside the Pacific Ocean.
Membership: The locker room’s wooden lockers bear the names of the club’s 250 members, including Clint Eastwood and Charles Schwab. Very few of Cypress Point’s members are local, so many of the tee times are given to guests. You better know one of the members, however, or it will be virtually impossible to get your name higher on the wait list. The course’s operating costs are split evenly among the members, regardless of whether they played or not. Consider it an extra incentive to make the trip out.
3. Seminole Golf Club
Where: Juno Beach, Fla.
The Course: The Donald Ross course is set on the steep sand ridges near the Atlantic Ocean. Golf legend Ben Hogan played here before tournaments, and insisted that other young golfers do the same.
Membership: At only 300 members, Seminole is so exclusive it even turned down golf pro Jack Nicklaus. It has hosted presidents (including JFK, Eisenhower and Ford), royalty and the corporate elite.
The Perks: Members get to take part in the annual Seminole Pro-Member tournament, where members are paired with pro golfers.
4. National Golf Links of America
Where: Southampton, N.Y.
The Course: Stretching along the shore of the Peconic Bay, the course is ranked 20th in the world. The course’s most unique feature is a windmill that overlooks the 16th hole.
Membership: Considering that its founding members were senior executives at top New York businesses, it is no wonder the National is a favorite of Wall Street giants and is known as “America’s Snootiest Golf Course.” Perhaps more surprising, however, is the membership of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The course is invitation-only, with membership fees reaching into the hundreds of thousands.
The Perks: The course is famed for its “best lunch in golf,” a lavish meal that has not changed since the club’s inception. The meal includes lobster, fish and crab cakes, beef and kidney pie, shepherd’s pie, and macaroni and cheese.
5. Chicago Golf Club
Where: Wheaton, Ill.
The Course: The course holds multiple titles, including the oldest 18-hole course in the United States, the first to feature an out-of-bounds rule, the first to have a “caddy shack" and the first member of the USGA.
The Clubhouse: The clubhouse has a turn-of-the-century feel, with many vintage design choices, such as subway tile walls and metal lockers in the locker room. The course also features memorabilia, including the original documents of the U.S. Golf Association.
Membership: The club’s members range from actor Chris O’Donnell, to former ServiceMaster chief executive Jonathan Ward, to former Amoco chairman Laurence Fuller. As the fifth most exclusive club in the world, the club is nigh impossible to get onto without member invitation.
6. Fishers Island Club
Where: Fishers Island, N.Y.
The Course: Featuring views of the ocean on every hole, the Seth Raynor-designed course consistently ranks among the top courses in the world.
The Clubhouse: The current clubhouse was built in 1964 after the original (pictured) burnt down. In a bizarre twist, this fire happened only a few weeks after the club had tried to demolish the building with dynamite.
Membership: Fishers Island is the home to many billionaires and political figures, including Florida Rep. Porter Goss, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and "Ice Storm" author Rick Moody. Fishers Island's exclusivity is partly due to its limited accessibility. Unless you have a private plane or can take the ferry from New London, Conn., consider Fishers Island out of reach.
7. Nanea Golf Club
Where: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
The Course: With Pacific Ocean views, the course creates a peaceful, secluded atmosphere where “you feel like it’s just you and the golf and nothing else,” as CBS broadcaster Peter Oosterhuis put it.
The Clubhouse: Nanea’s clubhouse was designed to resemble the five volcanoes of the island, and features marble floors and immaculate service.
Membership: The course was founded by Charles Schwab and George Roberts specifically for the elite, so you know whoever is playing there has some serious clout. Since its creation in 2003, Nanea has quickly become one of the most exclusive and secretive clubs in the world. Membership is by invitation only and the club is even difficult to find by GPS.
8. The Country Club
Where: Brookline, Mass.
History: This was the first country club in the United States, starting as an equestrian and social club. After its conversion to golf, the course had a boost in national popularity when local Francis Ouiment beat British golf pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the 1913 U.S. Open. The course has been selected to host the 2022 U.S. Open.
The Clubhouse: Brookline’s clubhouse features both formal and informal dining areas (manned by a top-tier staff, of course), a full wine cellar, nine tennis courts, an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a café, a curling rink, a skeet shooting range, and even a lake for ice skating and hockey. However, Brookline holds its old-time traditions close to its heart, and makes its members walk unless medically exempted.
Membership: The club is so exclusive that its website features links for jobs rather than memberships, and even rejected the wife of then-Gov. Deval Patrick.
The “Club Secret”: Brookline is surrounded by enormous fences and even a guard house. The ever-vigilant guard is actually a wooden mannequin named “Woody.”
9. Pine Valley Golf Club
Where: Pine Barrens, N.J.
The Course: Pine Valley has been called “The Greatest Course in the World” in countless publications. It is known for its extreme challenge and features some famous landmarks, including “Hell’s Half Acre” — a massive waste bunker on the 7th hole — and an extremely deep sand bunker on the 10th hole oh-so-eloquently named “The Devil’s Asshole.”
Membership: The member list is a closely guarded secret of the board of directors, who are the only ones allowed to extend invitations to potential new members. The membership is still male-only, with women allowed to play on Sundays.
10. Loblolly Pines
Where: Hobe Sound, Fla.
The Course: Although the course’s designers knew real estate sales would be essential to the survival of the club, they made sure the two would be kept separate. There are no houses invading on the privacy of the course, and vice versa.
Membership: Loblolly has only 275 members, and works hard to keep its numbers low. The membership application process requires not only the sponsorship of a current member, but also the confirmation of that sponsorship from four other members. There are different types of membership — equity, marina and national — that are all equally difficult to get into. And, of course, guests are only allowed with the invitation of a member.
The Perks: Loblolly is a recreational paradise, with multiple pools and tennis courts, a world-class grill, a yacht club, a luxury spa and state-of-the-art fitness center, and keeps its members and guests entertained with everything from book clubs and bridge lessons to speaker forums and concerts.