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Sound off: Public vs Private Courses

Jun 14, 2013

Which makes a better golfer, the familiarly of a private course setting, or the diversity of playing multiple public courses? The debate is almost as old as the sport. To get a better picture, we asked two Golf Academy of America alumni, one from each sector, to sound off. Here's what they had to say:

Private Club: Brett Cafferty, 2005 alumnus of Golf Academy of America in Orlando

Brett Cafferty, head golf professional at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando, Fla., knows a thing or two about the management of a private course. His club is the home base for Tiger Woods and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson.

With several members on the PGA or LPGA tour, Cafferty says Isleworth is a place for professional golfers to hone their skills in peace. "Having an environment where they can spend significant time to practice and play in an undisturbed environment is important to them," he said. "For higher profile members, it's difficult to get a cup of coffee, needless to say play golf."

According to Cafferty, here are a few other advantages of private clubs:

  • No tee times. You can tee off whenever you like.
  • Security. To get through the gates, you must be an employee or member.
  • Driving range. Rather than serving as a warm up spot only, the driving range and short game area are used for precision training. It doesn't hurt that they stock premium balls.
  • Maintenance. At Isleworth and many private clubs, there is no fixed budget for maintenance. In his words, "If something needs to happen, it's going to happen."

Public Club: Mike Simpson, 2006 alumnus of Golf Academy of America in San Diego

Mike Simpson is General Manager of Gleneagle Golf Course, which winds through picturesque neighborhoods in Arlington, Wash. In his two years at Glen Eagle, Simpson has turned the course, once in enough disrepair to be considered a probable location for new home sites, into profitable and well-respected public greens.

Like Cafferty, Simpson feels there is a place for both public and private courses. He sees public courses' main advantage being their support of the evolving face of golf.

"Our customer has changed in the last 10 years," said Simpson. "There are still the guys who want a county club feel—the exclusivity and the benefits. But we also have the regular play golfers, often a younger crowd. They want a good value, and they are willing to search for it."
Similarly, the PGA's Golf 2.0, a campaign to make the sport more user-friendly, is drawing in a crowd who may not have played otherwise, because of cost or difficulty. Simpson sites a few other advantages of pubic courses:

  • Economical. At Glen Eagle, you can get the greens fee, golf cart and a beer for $35.
  • Similar amenities. Many public courses offer benefits you'd see at private clubs, including on-site club repair and a fully stocked pro-shop.
  • Welcoming environment. Public clubs are easily accessible and less intimidating.
  • Home for casual golfers. For those who love a game of golf on occasion, public courses allow for intermittent play without the cost of maintaining country club membership.
  • Variety. There's no need to commit to one. You can bounce around the courses in your area and enjoy new courses when traveling.

At the end of the day, there are a host of benefits for both public and private golf clubs. Just like the sport, finding the right place is all about the individual.