Golf club membership brings with it more than simply an opportunity to tee it up, lob a few on the tennis courts, maybe swim a few laps. Every club has its own unique membership culture, and joining the club means becoming a part of a special community and environment.
The club culture defines the membership experience, helping to set the tone and create the atmosphere. Choosing a club means, in part, learning to discern the cultural differences and finding the one that feels most right.
What makes for a membership culture? Here are a few differentiators, with the caveat that no one culture is better or worse than any other. There are differences, that’s all, and the savvy player will find the version that fits the best.
Do they hang out? Some clubs have a distinct in-and-out vibe. Members arrive, play their golf round and head back into the locker room. From there they are off to their next destination. In other clubs the real enjoyment begins after the round commiserating over drinks, settling wagers (and exercising hard-fought bragging rights), swapping stories in the clubhouse, muse about the game or talk about work and home. The club is a physical social network! .
What’s the dress code? It used to be understood that golfers changed into dress shoes before strolling into the club house. That’s no longer the case. Jeans, t-shirts, even (gasp) visible tattoos: In a bid to court a wider demographic, some clubs have loosened up considerably on the dress codes of the past. This marks a cultural shift for sure. A room full of formal wear certainly sends a particular message, but then, society as a whole is dressing down. No better, no worse, but certainly different.
How does the culture come about? There is a mix of factors at play. Some of it has to do with history. A club that has been around for decades will establish roots, generating a membership culture that is practically ingrained in the woodwork.
Some elements of culture come through club rules and regulations. Management can set certain policies – no cell phones in the clubhouse, for instance – that establish not just a code of conduct but also an implied cultural framework. By allowing or prohibiting any given set of activities, management can use its rules-making authority to set expectations across the boards.
Sometimes culture arises out of common agreement. Members will “police themselves,” so to speak, agreeing either implicitly or explicitly to generate a certain set of behaviors and attitudes. Whether on purpose or by happenstance, members themselves can play a big role in setting the cultural agenda.
Finally, a word on gender. Not so long ago, gender differentiation was the norm. The links belonged to the male of the species. Today it is rare indeed to find a club that will not admit women.
While that has changed on paper, it hasn’t always evolved in cultural terms. A club may accept women members, and yet not fully welcome them. In subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the membership culture may send the signal that women, while permitted, are not quite equal.
Are any of these cultural variations right or wrong? That’s for each individual to decide, just as every play must decide what culture feels most right, before signing on for a membership.