Virtual Country Club

You know my schtik by now… always on the lookout for ideas that will make golf more fun, more convenient and more affordable for my fellow golfers.

You’re going to love what I stumbled across this month while playing a GroupLooper Golf Mixer at Pebble Creek.  I got to Becker early to warm up with a quick spin around the Local 9 and then headed to the first tee of the Championship Course where 3 players were waiting.

“Hello, boys”, I said, right hand outstretched and a glint in my eye.  “I’m Gary McWired… my friends call me McWeird.”  That opener, coupled with my Rickie Fowler signature high tops and Fu Manchu usually cause a little anxiety, but one of my new soulmates who was dressed all in black stepped right in with a hearty handshake.

“Hi Gary… I’m Gary also… I’m a PGA member.”

Pointing to a cool looking dude on a Golf Board, he said “This is my brother Darrell, just  in from southern California where he is a ForeLinx member”.  He pivoted, gestured the other way and added “… and this is my other brother Darryl… visiting from Kansas City… he’s a charter GreatLife member.”

ForeLinx?  GreatLife?  Yours truly was confused… and a bit intimidated at the prospect of playing with a guy who looked like Gary Player and said he was a PGA member.  I waved weakly and said “Nice to meet you all, but sorry, bros, I haven’t ever heard of your clubs.  Let’s tee off and you can tell me more about your home tracks.”

We banged out our opening tee shots and as we headed down the fairway, the story that unfolded was fascinating.

Gary explained that his PGA is the “Pretender’s Golf Association”, a group of retired educators who play together a couple of times a week at courses all over the Twin Cities Metro.  Their virtual clubhouse resides on GroupLooper, so when Gary sets up a game he posts it on GroupLooper and allows fellow members to opt in or out.  The PGA has a regular slate of courses they play every year, but they’ll also sneak in an occasional visit to a new course.

ForeLinx is a West Coast club.  Members pay a monthly membership fee (there are different levels starting at $99) and are awarded points that they can redeem at over 90 different courses in Cali, Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere.  The points never expire, so if you’re too busy to play one month you can double up later.  Members even have occasional opportunities to score some rounds on private clubs.

GreatLife is the granddaddy of the virtual country club game and offers a combination fitness club and golf club membership at dozens of courses in the Kansas City and Sioux City Metro areas for a very modest membership fee.  I don’t get along with weight machines very well myself, but Darryl’s flat waist and bulging biceps told me that he was right at home in the gym as well as on the golf course.

My playmates raved about their membership experiences… the expanded group of playing partners, the fun events, the opportunity to play interesting new courses and the discounted price per round.  “I never thought I’d be able to afford to join a country club”, said Darryl… “and ok, this isn’t exactly Augusta National… but for golfers who crave variety and/or are on a limited budget this is a godsend”.

Is the lightbulb going on yet?  If you’re a nomadic golfer, these new age “virtual country clubs” are the cat’s pajamas.  With one membership, you obtain privileges at dozens of courses and become part of a larger playing group that offers you many opportunities to get in a game.

I’m not usually into making predictions like the Swami, but I’ll make an exception.  Within a few years, there will be at least a handful of virtual country clubs that you can join in whatever Metro Area you live in.  They’ll vary in the quality of golf courses, monthly fee levels and other amenities but the bottom line is that all of us will have some new, appealing choices that help us play more golf… and participating course operators will have an additional stream of customers who fill up off-peak tee times, who bring friends and family to play, who hang out in the clubhouse and spend money on food and beverages and create a fun vibe.  Website platforms like GroupLooper will be the glue that binds most of these virtual clubs together, enabling members to easily invite other members to play in their tee times or to play in tee times organized by others.

You heard it here first.

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