Is your country club too stuffy for golf's 21st century?

Private clubs should lighten up their rules to survive in today's climate.
Some private clubs don't exactly roll out the red carpet for guests.

As someone who has never been a country club member, I'm always surprised at what golfers tolerate inside the gates.

Maybe I'm just not cut out for the upper crust of golf society. Or perhaps I'm a rebel who doesn't like rules. More likely, I'll never make enough money to justify a membership. Whatever the case, every time I'm invited to a private club - either for work or for simply play - I'm worrying about every word I say and move I make. I've been to enough swanky places to know you don't step out of line, or you may embarrass yourself or worse, your host.

Don't get me wrong. I love the thrill of playing some spectacular private playground where my wallet, or my game, doesn't belong. Over the years, these opportunities have always left me wondering, "Why"? As in, why does the staff and the rules at the best golf courses have to be so pretentious?

This air of stuffiness is where golf could be in trouble in the 21st century. Inclusiveness - not exclusiveness - is the new world order, especially as it pertains to golf, where the game needs to be more welcoming not less. Yet almost every time I show up at a private club, I'm hit with some wacky, outdated rule of club life. I'll share five examples without calling out the specific club. A well-versed golfer may be able to recognize where at least one of these events transpired:

* Upon walking into a pro shop of a European Tour host course, a member of my foursome was asked to change his socks. Apparently, wearing black socks with shorts is some sort of fashion faux pas. He bought a $25 pair of overpriced white socks to play. My foursome was not the first, nor the last, forced to play fancy socks roulette.

* Warming up on the putting green of a high-end U.S. club, a staff member approached me awkwardly to ask that I change my shorts. I'm guessing a nosy member didn't like the idea of sharing the course with a non-dues paying golfer and complained about my shorts too closely resembling "cargo" pants. To his credit, the head pro was apologetic and sold me shorts at half price. To my credit, I gave the course a fair review, back when I was a Golfweek rater, when I really wanted to blast the place.

* Before and during play at a famous private U.S. Open venue, our foursome was constantly reminded that rounds must be completed in four hours and 10 minutes, or the host would be in big trouble. According to club rules, every round extending past the allotted time would be a strike against a member and result in a warning letter in his/her locker. I'm not sure if it was three strikes and he was out, but I didn't want to be the guy who got him put on probation. I played well, but a media partner did not, grinding the group to a halt. How do you force someone to play faster when they just weren't capable that day? I think we finished in like 4:12. Needless to say, I haven't been invited back. Funny thing is, recalling the "pressure" we were under, I'm not sure I would return again.

* Prior to playing at an international club described to me as an "icon" of the country, I had to submit my handicap. Fine. I emailed my index to my host. To my surprise, he needed my GHIN number, something I had to look up. I'd never used it in the decade-plus of owning an official handicap. Before the round, everybody had to provide a handwritten signature on the tee sheet. The member told me afterward that he played under a different name that day because he hadn't played much golf due to an injury and feared the club might take issue that his handicap wasn't up to date. Too afraid to play his home course? Wowza. Should owning a legit handicap be a requirement at a private club? To compete in tournaments, yes, but just to tee it up as a guest or a casual-playing member?

* Before entering the clubhouse of a legendary club overseas, I - like anyone and everyone - dressed in my Sunday best, wearing a jacket and tie. Funny thing is, part of the reason I wanted to be a writer was because the job DIDN'T require dressing up for work. It felt so strange changing into my golf attire in the tiny locker room and then changing back for the post-round feast. As over the top as this sounds, it was actually the least intrusive of all the policies I've outlined. It made the day unique and special. Would I join that club, though? No.

* In a surprising twist, one private club's general manager asked me not to write anything about my experience or post any pictures of the course to social media. I wish I got that request more often. All joking aside, the club missed a grand opportunity. I would have given it a glowing review.

No changing shoes in the parking lot. No women members. No this. No that. If I wanted to hear so many no's, I would just call my wife.

I will concede that cell phone and dress code policies are a good thing, as long as they aren't too draconian. No phone calls in the grill room = good. No cell phones on property or on the course = bad. If golf wants to attract a younger audience some concessions need to be made to make the club feel more casual and inviting. I'm cool with no jeans or T-shirts on the course. But no jeans or T-shirts in the clubhouse? Overkill.

To make golf more fun, let's remove the arrogance from the game. Traditions are good ... llike collared shirts on the course ... but let's bring golf into the 21st century by leaving all the stuffy stuff in golf's too conservative past.

Have you had a bad experience at a private club with too many rules?

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Misogyny, racism, anti-semitism, exclusionary private clubs run by boards(male) need to be gone!! I know, worked for Long Island clubs-the WORST! The dress code is the least of the problems going forward.But, yes the dress codes are antiquated and meant to be exclusionary and to be snobbish.

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I'm a12 handicap senior who used to play 100 rounds/year, but grew tired of slow groups ahead with 2 empty holes in front of them and they never wave you through. These are the same people who drive at 60mph in the left lane and figure that's fast enough for anyone. I seldom play more than 10 rounds a year, takes too long. BTW does anyone ever replace divots or fix ball marks any more?

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I recognize the club you mentioned about Jackets only in the clubhouse. Upon arrival we were given a sheet of rules we had to follow. I'm sure it was because some jackass before us took a dump on their putting green and ran around the clubhouse naked. There's always one that ruins it for the rest of us.

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Yo Jason - this is why they are called "private" clubs. They can enforce any rules they deem necessary. So the key is to find a private club that has rules that you like. I am fortunate to belong to a very fun and exciting private club. And yes, we have rules, but we stay within them, and still have a blast. FYI - you need to take a chill pill.....relax

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If you cant play in under 4 hours as a 4 ball you shouldn't be playing. Slow play is one of the things killing the game. I know the club you are referencing and they are right in enforcing that rule.
The bad experience is in your group

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I have had the pleasure of playing golf for over 50 years and have experienced a major change in attitude and approach regards the type of club being described. My own cub which is in the top 100 of England has gone from a very male oriented club to one of equal status, we still have rules, a suggestion regards dress that is acceptable but most important it is the course that matters.
If you wish to go to certain clubs and they call a tune you have to abide by their rules and regulations, after all it is the members who pay the fees that provide the course that your desire to play.
I have been fortunate to play many top courses around the world some totally closed unless invited and have never found an issue. If invited or allowed be prepared to accept a few regulations after all you are their guest.
If this is to demanding then as pointed out there are many gems that are happy for you to visit and perhaps need your support more than the ‘elite courses’.
Enjoy your game wherever you are there are plenty pushing up the divots who would love to be in your place.

Commented on

Why do the people who write rules describe their golf courses as "top-tier?" If they write stupid rules, I would call them lower class, unworthy of being called a golf course for all, just for snobs. Personally, I think golf courses that do not allow women members, require you to play in four hours and 10 minutes are not worthy of joining associations with golf clubs that espouse openness, the good of the game, and a fun time. I would also argue that such courses never be allowed to host a tournament. Do I think private courses are too stuffy for the 21st century? Yes, but not all

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I'm okay with reasonable on-course dress policies, but Bel-air does not allow shorts. You must wear long pants for four hours outside in sunny LA!?!?

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if you play at LEOPARD CREEK in South Africa you can only play with white socks ; some golf club around Johannesburg , stilll today do not allow to walk at the bar or have drink on the terrasse wearing shoes without socks . don't make any difference on the course .....

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Some private courses in GB, to comply with council requests, had to have a couple of open days a week, which they didn't like.
A friend of mine wandered into the bar for a drink, on a hot day. Asking a Colonal Blimp character who was sitting on a stool at the bar, my friend enquired about getting a drink. Not recognising my friend, he said, are you public, to which he replied, yes. Colonal Blimp replied, there's a tap out the back for public. Public weren't allowed in the bar.

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Is your country club too stuffy for golf's 21st century?