Private Party

A love letter to the joys of going inside the gates

Public golf is essential. I get that. In recent years, public and municipal golf have, to borrow from Mean Girls, become incredibly “fetch.” But I’m just not here for it, so please stop trying to make fetch happen.

Unkempt, uninspired courses that dish out suspiciously aged egg salad, demand online tee-time jockeying and require at least five hours of your life wedged between a smattering of elderly tortoises and drunken, feral hogs are what you’re into? I’ve witnessed enough fistfights, rock-filled bunkers and shirtless men showering in bathroom sinks to confidently proclaim that the overwhelming majority of public golf in America stinks. If you can’t see that, please remove your Instagram-tinted goggles and spare me the gaslighting. No matter how many bohemian breweries you find or trendy T-shirts you buy, Brooklyn will never be Manhattan and Rancho Park will never be Riviera. Can we be honest with ourselves and stop the delusion?

This isn’t coming from someone who grew up behind private golf gates, unless you count the time my dad joined the neighborhood club on a whim. He and I played one glorious round together before financial reality quickly set in and we were forced to resign, sentenced to the purgatory of purchasing tokens from the rusty local driving-range machine.

That trivial childhood trauma aside, a 10-day stretch of golf sealed my country club love. I took a golf trip to one of the great American armpits, Myrtle Beach, then spent a mind-blowing afternoon at Cal Club, a true California oasis. I’d never encountered a place like that; it was a different world that had no parallels to my prior golf experience. After that day, GolfNow was dead to me.

Months later, I was fortunate enough to join my own club. It wasn’t much, but it was mine, it was ours, and we were damn proud of it. The course was far superior to my previous public options, and so was every other part of the experience: the relationships; stag nights in the grillroom; my favorite server, Patty; the member-guest; unlimited range balls; brisk pace of play; the steam room; lobster Cobb salad; and the ability to show up unannounced to play a few holes after work and be welcomed by people who genuinely knew me. Few, if any, of these things can be found in public golf.

This isn’t to minimize the wider value of the municipal game. For golf to continue growing and have its players better reflect the demographics of America, public golf must not only exist, but also improve its quality and accessibility. (On this point, there are people far wiser than I who will explain the superiority of Scotland’s open structure.) Further, it’s worth noting that while tony private clubs have produced many pros, shabby Southern California munis gave us the greatest golfer ever to live.

Two years after I joined my club, a change in life circumstances left me no choice but to resign my membership and once again be relegated to the public-golf slog. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Karma for an opinion that some friends have characterized as reprehensible? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean I’m warming to insipid layouts, lukewarm hot dogs and one-day-stand playing partners. Trust me: I’m saving every penny to get back inside some new gates.