Golf in America is such a complicated event at times, it is so different from Scotland the birthplace of golf where virtually everyone can call virtually everywhere and ask to play. It might be rather restricted or at times insanely expensive but generally one gets to play a fine course at a fine price. There are in America so many different and distinct places and ways to play golf. This is a topic that I have gone over in my mind for so many years. There are really different and good options, we really do get spoiled.
The Municipal Course
The beloved Muni is where most players get started, even if they are privileged enough to have access through family to a Country Club or Golf Club. Why? It is easy to access, has good value for money and is completely non-discriminatory. Well, almost, you do pay more if you are not from the MUNIcipality where the Muni is located. Your tax dollars help support the muni and that's what the source of all the benefits and befalls a course springs. The tax structure of most municipalities provides for a parks & recreation system, not unlike on NBC Thursday Nights but without all the comedy and drama. That damned tax bill you pay every year allows your city county or other government to own, build, maintain and otherwise oversee that place thatis lovingly called a rat-ass muni. We are rather lucky where I live in that the daily resident fee for the muni done by Ault & Clark runs about $20 more or less. There is a restaurant run by a local brew works that serves a solid meal and even breakfast that I will eat. Mine is within a mile of my house, in fact I can see it from the upstairs bedroom. We get a course that has no bad or stupid holes in reasonable shape where you can walk, ride, pull, carry whatever and at up to 7100 yards Par 72. The next town over has another solid muni with a few better more interesting holes and a few not up to the rest. Overall it's not in quite as good of shape, but it is maybe $5 more. There is not the same food facilities but "good enough". At each of these there is a reasonable yearly rate of under $1500.
Private Daily Fee
Two towns over to the east is a less than 10 year old Kelly Blake Moran masterpiece of quirky hillside routing that is in superb shape. It is in a housing community and the second nine has the two best mountain par 5 holes in one nine anywhere. As a Senior, most days I can play for $35, regular Joes & Janes $45 and conditioning (THE single most important criteria to American golfers according to NGA polls) basically equal to the two world class private clubs in the immediate area. When I lived in Chicago, the Jemsek family ran Cog Hill and six other courses. Within an hour of my house, privately owned Public access courses were everywhere and by seemingly every architect. Most of the time the conditioning of a privately owned daily fee is notably better than your Muni. It is definitely NOT your CCFAD.
One goes on vacation to these places, a destination with one, two or many courses and with lodging on site. At the top of the "most courses list" is certainly St. Andrews, the daddy of all destinations albeit without titular lodging. The Old Course Hotel is owned by Herb Kohler and thankfully he has nothing to do with any operations of the St. Andrews Links, that is up to the Links Foundation who controls the public lands and runs the systems used to access these wonderful courses. USA-wise: In sheer numbers, the Pinehurst Resort probably has the most directly associated courses although some of them approach Doak 0 category. Resorts are chock full of things for non-golfers to do, should have a pool and plenty of hot water Jacuzzi Spas, if not, I don't want to go. The class of these is Bandon Dunes Resort, uniquely American despite their efforts to convince you otherwise, a good resort always is enjoyable even if buyer's remorse hits you at check out. When you faint, you are at Pebble Beach or Kohler. At the value for money end in the USA s the superb 3-course resort replete with Indian Casino in the very best sense at Turning Stone, Oneida, NY. There is everything else in-between including multiple design-your-own at Myrtle Beach, SC. Myrtle is pleasing because one goes off the reservation with no problem. Kiawah, Bandon, Pebble, Homestead, Turning Stone, Pequot, etc. Choose your poison, these often have very fine and even world-class golf available. The best have caddies.
The CCFAD (Country Club for a Day)
This is the more upscale Private Daily Fee morphing into the Resort, usually with one or two courses. There is a hazy line where one turns into the other ..... It is arguable that the very first of these was in suburban Illinois in the form of Kemper Lakes. It opened in 1974 or so and I was able to get out there right from the start. This was before the swarms of employees outfitted with wireless communications enveloped you as they do today. The worst part of all of that is that you are expected to buy your way in and out with $1 and $5 bills, getting your bag out of your vehicle, parking said vehicle, directing the bag stand operator which your and your group bags are, again identifying them downstairs going to the range, meeting the starter, meeting and being serviced by the (hopefully) hot cart girls, and at the end the bag-off-cart taker-offers, rack storers (down and upstairs the club polishers the valet return driver and the bag (badly and inevitably how you do NOT want them) trunk placers. My wallet seems light from typing this. Odd considering that I A) Never carry cash B) have a throng of cards to pay for things. Many of these are pasture pool fields of perfect turf devoid of architectural strategy. From what Kemper Lakes was in the mid-1970's to what this class of course is currently is a case of sad inexorable decline.
The Country Club
Country Club is not Golf Club, nor should it be. It is basically your private resort with a heavy emphasis on added activities (swimming, tennis, workout, child care, fine dining - even horsey stuff & skeet) to your beloved golf. However at most country clubs golf is the main attraction. Some golf and country clubs so state, but these are the majority of where private golf is played in the USA.
The Golf Club
Golf. A place to change? Probably. Have a drink? Likely. Swim, play tennis? No, not here. Just golf - although I once wrote that the "New Country Club" required you to fly forever, drive to nowhere, stay on site, drink too expensive of wine & other booze but offer only golf and call it Golf Club of Nowheresville or the Rattlesnake Grill and Club or other cute name somehow reflective of the location. I'm not sure what to call these, but they are too limited for me, generally. Golf Clubs are still near civilization and allow other activities because they actually are somewhere and you don't need a secret handshake to get the code to the gate on the dirt road in from the county-designated highway.