What Are Reciprocal Agreements Between Golf Clubs?

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Reciprocal play, or "reciprocals," refers to an agreement between private, members-only country clubs to allow their members to play one another's golf courses on an arranged basis.

Not every private golf club has reciprocals with other private golf clubs, but many do. And at those that do, the reciprocal agreements are a bonus for members, a value-added perk. Clubs that have reciprocals often tout them to new members or potential recruits for membership.

How Reciprocals Work Between Clubs

Let's say that Club A and Club B allow reciprocals (meaning they have a "reciprocal agreement" or "reciprocal play arrangement" in effect). You belong to Club A, but you'd like to play Club B.

You go to your golf professional at Club A and ask them to arrange a tee time for you at Club B. Your pro contacts the Club B pro and asks if you may golf on a particular day. If Club B's pro can accommodate you, they schedule a tee time reservation for you. 

Reciprocals are always arranged by the respective clubs' golf staff, typically the head professional or director of golf, although if the clubs have a particularly close relationship, an assistant pro or golf shop clerk can often make the arrangements.

This process is referred to as "reciprocal play" because at some point your club will reciprocate, or allow members from Club B to play at Club A. 

Agreement Details

Each club has its own rules for reciprocal agreements. At member-owned clubs, the board of directors often approves the agreements with each club on its reciprocal list. At for-profit private clubs, the professional staff typically makes the arrangements.

When visiting a reciprocal club, you are treated as a member and usually pay only what a member would pay—a cart fee or caddie fee (plus tip). You are also are expected to tip the service staff if the club allows tipping (some private clubs do not). At private clubs that do not accept cash or credit cards, you may be required to charge your fees back to your home club, which then bills your club account.

Because reciprocal play is a privilege, the visiting golfers are expected to follow all club rules and be good representatives of their home club.

Availability for reciprocal play may be limited to non-prime times.

Reciprocals at Public-Access Clubs

Semiprivate, resort, and even municipal golf courses that offer memberships have established agreements they call reciprocals. Although not reciprocals as defined by private clubs, the agreements have nonetheless adopted the term.

Like the reciprocals at private clubs, these public-access club reciprocals are considered an added value for members. But they also are valued as an additional revenue source. While these reciprocals may cost the golfer just a cart fee, they could also cost more. It's not unusual for semiprivate clubs and public courses to offer golf for reciprocal club players at a rate that's lower than what's offered to the public but higher than a member cart fee.