What Is a 'Semi-Private' Golf Course?

golf course green
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"Semi-private course" is the term applied to golf courses that sell memberships, while also allowing non-members to book tee times and play. So a semi-private course combines elements of a country club with elements of a public golf course — think of it as the middle ground between closed-to-only-members and open-to-everyone.

The term "semi-private course" is one used most commonly in the United States. But many of the famous links of Great Britain, for example, qualify as semi-private: They include private clubs and offer memberships, but can also be played by non-members.

If a semi-private golf course is available for play to the public, why would any golfer pay to join? Because those who do buy a membership receive benefits. Typically, golfers who pay a membership fee to a semi-private golf course receive reduced (or waived) green fees. That is the most common benefit to membership. Another common benefit is preferential tee times — members are given priority over non-members for playing times. Access to other amenities or perks offered by the club (such as a private locker room) may also be offered only to members.

Non-members can play the golf course, but typically pay higher green fees and might be restricted from entering other parts of the club (swimming pool or tennis courts, for example).

Owners of semi-private golf courses are usually private companies (as opposed to, for a example, a city government owning a municipal golf course). The choice to take the semi-private, rather than fully private, route for those owners is about bringing in more money than selling memberships alone could do. If a private club isn't making enough money by selling memberships — if it has plenty of spare tee time inventory going unused — its owners might consider switching to the semi-private model.

Semi-Private vs. Private Courses

At a private golf course, non-members are typically allowed to play only at the invitation of members. As noted, though, a semi-private course does allow members of the general public to play its golf course without needing to be the guest of a member.

Semi-Private vs. Public Courses

A public golf course is one that is open to the general public, without restriction. If you play golf, you can play a public golf course. Public courses typically do not sell memberships, although they might offer deals for discounted rates if golfers buy green fees in bulk (for example, paying a flat monthly fee rather than individual green fees). Semi-private golf courses do offer memberships, and often offer privileges available to members but not to non-members.