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10 of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world and how to get in

Mykenna Maniece   

10 of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world — and how to get in
Augusta National Golf Club "Members Only" sign.Andrew Redington/Staff/Getty Images
  • The 2024 Masters Tournament is underway and concludes on Sunday.
  • The tournament is held at Augusta National, one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world.

Take a look at almost any billionaire's social calendar this week and you're likely to see one thing: The Masters.

The prestigious golf tournament, which is the first major event on the PGA Tour, is held in Augusta, Georgia, at the Augusta National Golf Club. There, the best golfers in the world compete to win the coveted green jacket bestowed only to tournament winners and club members and to etch their name into a rich sports history.

With past Masters attendees ranging from Nike cofounder Phil Knight to Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, the event is an annual reminder of the wealth ingrained in golf's history and the culture of exclusivity it breeds in the most elite clubs.

"There's a huge amount of very exclusive clubs all over the world. I would say that Augusta National is the most famous one," Barnabas Carrega, CEO of luxury travel and planning firm GR8 Experience, told Business Insider.

"I think that there's two different ways to look at why a club is exclusive and one of them is the quality of the golf course. Sometimes, the golf course has so much history behind it that the club becomes extremely exclusive by default because of the importance of the golf course," said Carrega.

"And then other times it's just the place, the service, the level of facilities, and what they've built around the golf experience," he added.

Regardless of how they achieved their exclusivity, such clubs are almost impossible to join. They require special connections, patience, and plenty of money for a chance at acceptance.

So, in case you never have the opportunity to befriend Tiger Woods or win the lottery, here's a peek at 10 of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world.

Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters.

Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters.
Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse in 2021.      Jared C. Tilton/Staff/Getty Images

The esteemed club, founded and co-designed by legendary golfer and Grand Slam winner Bobby Jones, opened for play in 1932, though women were not allowed to join until August 2012.

One of the highlights of the course is its extensive flora. Per Golf Monthly, Augusta has an estimated 80,000 plants from over 350 varieties, and each hole is named for a corresponding plant. Throughout the weekend, pros like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler will test their skills on holes like Magnolia, Juniper, Azalea, and Holly in pursuit of tournament victory.

And if you're interested in playing this famed course someday, you'll have to get in line. Most memberships are inherited from one of the club's existing 300 or so members, but you could attend as one of their guests. You could also play as a guest of a Masters champion.

If these options sound a little too unrealistic, there is one other way to gain access: volunteering at the Masters. As to be expected, there's a waitlist, but if you volunteer for the full week, you'll be invited to an "Appreciation Day" in May to play a round of golf, per Golf.com. Keep that in mind for next year.

In 2028, Winged Foot Golf Club will host the US Open for the seventh time.

In 2028, Winged Foot Golf Club will host the US Open for the seventh time.
Bryson DeChambeau celebrates winning the 2020 US Open Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club.      Gregory Shamus/Staff/Getty Images

The Mamaroneck, New York, club's East and West courses were ranked on Golf.com's Top 100 Courses in the World of 2020-2021, with the West ranking 23rd and the East ranking 62nd, so it's no surprise that Winged Foot would be a top choice for the US Open.

"Winged Foot has provided the backdrop for some of the most dramatic moments in the history of our sport, with many of golf's legendary champions being crowned on the club's iconic West Course," said John Bodenhamer, USGA chief championships officer, in a press release in 2023, per Golf Digest.

In 2020, Golf.com reported that the Winged Foot Golf Club's waitlist was "supposedly a decade long," and initiation fees are believed to be well above $100,000, so instead of joining, you may just want to think ahead and purchase those 2028 tickets.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is known as the "Home of Golf."

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is  known as the "Home of Golf."
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews 18th hole and clubhouse.      Reimar/Shutterstock

Founded in 1754, The Old Course at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, is one of the oldest golf courses in the world and home to The Open Championship, the oldest and one of the most prestigious tournaments of the season.

While you can take a walking tour of the course between March and November, the clubhouse is usually only accessible to its 2,500 members. However, once a year on November 30, which is also known as St. Andrews Day, part of it is opened to the public for tours, Golf Digest reported.

St. Andrews is notoriously exclusive, allowing its first female members in 2015. Golf.com reported that the multi-step membership process includes an invitation from a current member, an application, and letters of recommendation — and this doesn't even guarantee admission, as it can take years to get through the waitlist, and applications can be outright denied.

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland offers lessons with PGA professionals.

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland offers lessons with PGA professionals.
Skibo Castle in Scotland.      Jon Furniss/Contributor/WireImage

The Gr8 Experience, a luxury travel firm specializing in exclusive experiences, has a personal relationship with the Carnegie Club at Skibo, according to Gr8's CEO Barnabas Carrega.

Carrega told Business Insider that visiting Skibo is "one of the most incredible experiences" he's ever seen from a country club in terms of level of service, privacy, and exclusivity, describing it as "an immense club."

Per the Carnegie Club's website, the golf course Carnegie Links, "is ideal for both beginners finding their feet on the greens and more accomplished players looking to perfect their swing. Lessons can be booked with our resident PGA professionals."

In 2019, Michael Jordan opened his exclusive golf club, The Grove XXIII.

In 2019, Michael Jordan opened his exclusive golf club, The Grove XXIII.
Michael Jordan golfing at the ARIA Resort & Casino's 13th Annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational at Shadow Creek in 2014.      Isaac Brekken/Stringer/Getty Images for Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational

Business Insider reported in 2021 that Michael Jordan's exclusive golf course in Hobe Sound, Florida, has fewer than 80 members. Some famous names allowed in include former president Barack Obama, former tennis player John McEnroe, and current PGA Tour pros Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.

As you can probably guess, you'd either need to know Jordan — or he'd want to get to know you — for you to get an invite to this ultra-exclusive club.

"Michael Jordan is a huge fan of golf, and even when he was playing for the Chicago Bulls, apparently, in between games, he would go and play golf," said Carrega. "So he's always been very into the sport."

Jordan even hosts an exclusive tournament, gifting winner Keegan Bradley a $4,000 bottle of his tequila, Cincoro Extra Añejo, in 2023.

Shinnecock Hills was founded in 1891, making it one of the oldest golf clubs in the US.

Shinnecock Hills was founded in 1891, making it one of the oldest golf clubs in the US.
Brooks Koepka during the final round of the US Open in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills.      Erick W. Rasco/Contributor/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Another club with high levels of exclusivity is Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York. The club will host both the US Open and the US Women's Open in 2036, per Golf.com.

As one of the five founding clubs of the US Golf Association, its history dates back to 1891, which might help explain some of its strict rules.

For example, Shinnecock doesn't allow any cell phones or communication devices to be used or displayed in the clubhouse or on club grounds (except in the telephone room or cars in the parking lot), everyone's shirts must be worn tucked in, and no gratuity may be paid to employees, per the club's Guest Information page.

To play here, you'll need a signature from an accompanying member — no exceptions, sorry.

Cypress Point Golf Club in Pebble Beach, California, has a seven-year-long waitlist.

Cypress Point Golf Club in Pebble Beach, California, has a seven-year-long waitlist.
Cypress Point Golf Club pictured in 1997.      David Madison/Contributor/Getty Images

In 2019, Cypress Point was named one of Golf.com's most exclusive golf clubs in the world. To quote entertainer and comedian Bob Hope, "One year, they had a big membership drive at Cypress. They drove out 40 members."

Business Insider reported that Cypress has only about 250 members, with Golf Addict noting that the clientele is primarily "prominent politicians, businessmen, and movie stars," who split the course's fees equally, no matter how much they actually golf.

You'll need over $1 million to join Shell Bay Club in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

You
The new Shell Bay Club is located in Hallandale Beach, Florida, pictured here.      Anton Pestov/Shutterstock

Where does one begin with Shell Bay? Perhaps you'll start your day at the yacht club, practice your forehand on the Gram Slam-quality tennis courts, and then play a few holes on the Greg Norman-designed golf course. Or maybe you'll just spend the day at the spa.

The possibilities are grand at the Shell Bay Club — if you've got $1 million lying around for fun.

"Basically, all the members are millionaires or billionaires," Carrega said, adding that members include "the captains of industry and the most important of the people in Florida."

In addition to the private club, Shell Bay also has residences with amenities that include a sunset cocktail terrace, an orchid garden, and a private wine-tasting room with secure wine drawers.

Japan's Hirono Golf Club requires attendees to adhere to a strict dress code.

Japan
Hirono Golf Club pictured in 2004.      David Cannon/Contributor/Getty Images

Also featured on Golf.com's most exclusive golf clubs in the world in 2019, Hirono Golf Club in Kobe, Japan, has a reputation for being especially private; the last professional tournament played there was the 70th Japan Open Golf Championship in 2005.

While most golf courses are known for having dress codes, some of Hirono's rules are incredibly specific.

Per the club's website, guidelines for playing attire include no clothing with "showy colors or patterns" like red or camouflage, no mock-neck shirts, no shirts without collars and sleeves, no ankle socks, and no clothing or hats "designed with conspicuous advertising intentions."

Only members and their guests are allowed access to Hirono, and both parties are held to the same high standards, with the club noting that members are "fully responsible for the conduct of the visitor," who should be fully informed on the rules and course etiquette before arrival.

Pine Valley Golf Club has been ranked the No. 1 golf course in the US every year since 2017.

Pine Valley Golf Club has been ranked the No. 1 golf course in the US every year since 2017.
1985 Walker Cup at Pine Valley Golf Club.      John Kelly/Contributor/Getty Images

Founded in 1913, Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey has been ranked the No. 1 golf course in the state every year since 1985 and the No. 1 golf course in the country every year since 2017, per Golf Digest.

The club is famously invite-only and, until 2021, only allowed women to play as guests on Sunday afternoons.

"The future of golf must move toward inclusion, and I am pleased to report that the Trustees and members of the Pine Valley Golf Club have voted unanimously and with enthusiasm to remove all gender-specific language from our bylaws," club president Jim Davis wrote in an email to members obtained by Golf Digest in 2021.

Pine Valley has only held one elite professional event in its history, further emphasizing its interest in privacy. However, the club will break tradition in 2034 to host the Curtis Cup, a biennial match where the top female American amateurs compete against the best from Great Britain and Ireland.


Correction — April 15, 2024: An earlier version of this story misidentified the designer of Shell Bay Club's golf course. It was designed by Greg Norman, not Greg Newman.


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