Considering joining a golf club but don’t know anything about it? There’s a lot to consider – most notably the cost – but your decision shouldn’t just be based on money. Like most purchases, the answer to many of your questions will likely be, “It depends.” Here’s what you need to know as you start your search.

How Much?

Let’s address the elephant in the room right away. The cost varies widely. For some clubs, if you have to ask then you can’t afford it – but those are also the same clubs that might not let you in even if you have the money. They might be looking for some notable accomplishment in the sport or some degree of celebrity status, such as being a public figure.

For most clubs, however, that’s not the case, although they’re still going to take a bite out of your wallet. In 2008 Golf Digest surveyed more than 200 private-club members to try to get some answers that clubs aren’t quick to disclose. They found that the average annual cost of a golf club membership was $6,240, or about $520 per month. Newer data doesn’t show much change.

What You Get With Your Membership

Price doesn’t tell the whole story; you have to look at value. Within that monthly fee you’re probably paying $50 to $100 per month for food and beverages. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it fee, so you might as well take the family over for dinner if you’re not using it on the course. You might be paying locker fees, hole-in-one-insurance fees and tournament fees. There are also assessments for club renovations and other capital expenses, as well as an initiation fee. The last is a one-time fee that could be between $2,000 and $100,000 depending on the club.

You Might Be Paying This Already

You should plan to pay at least $200 monthly for the bottom-tier clubs. Before you succumb to extreme sticker shock, though, keep in mind that depending on how much you play, you could be putting more money into daily-fee courses than you think. A round of golf on a middle-of-the-road course is around $80. If you play 25 rounds per year, that’s $2,000, without any of the perks that come with a club membership.

How Do I Pick?

Let’s assume that you’re sold on joining a club. How do you know where to go and which ones fit what you’re looking for?

First, are you looking for a golf club or a country club? A golf club focuses more on the playing experience: the quality of the course, a full-featured pro shop and practice facility, etc. A country club may offer a great golf experience, but it’s designed as more of a family one. You’ll typically find a high-quality restaurant, a pool, social activities and other things that make it a great family destination. In reality, most clubs are a mix of both, but will likely lean one way or the other.

Next, are there various membership levels? What's called a social membership, for those who aren’t so interested in golf, will likely be cheaper. You might also find discounts for younger people and those who live out of state, as well as family and corporate membership rates. A one-size-fits-all fee structure only works if you’re a hardcore golfer. Another obvious approach is looking at the clubs your golf-playing friends belong to or think are the best.

Also, ask about the rules. If it's a private club and you're a woman – or regularly play with women – be sure the course doesn't have any outdated rules that limit whether or when women can play; most of these are long gone, but possibly not everywhere. Similarly, if you want to introduce the children in your family to golf, ask the same questions about whether the course is open to kids.

If you’re joining for the golf, play the course a couple of times before joining. It would be a shame if you joined only to find that the course isn’t well maintained or isn’t challenging enough for you. You should also ask when the course was built, when it was last renovated and how many sets of tees it has, as well as determine the yardage, rating and slope. Ask some of the same questions about the clubhouse and the practice facilities too. Click here to download a list of good questions to ask.

The Bottom Line

Few people can take a money-is-no-object approach to a golf club membership. There’s a wide range of prices and club levels from which to choose. Most important, be honest about how much you’ll use the club. Unless you’re playing a lot of golf, entertaining a lot of clients or have a lifestyle that allows the family to spend a lot of time using the club amenities, you might find it difficult to justify the cost. If you can swing it, however, then by all means, “Fore!” (For more, see The Future Outlook of the Golf Industry.)