When Sean Ogle abandoned the life of a financial analyst and began writing the blog “Breaking 80,” he never imagined how many fellow golfers would reach out and invite him to play golf at their home courses.
Realizing he had formed an impressive network of “golf geeks,” Ogle decided there must be a better way to connect, so in January 2017, he approached a group of 20 of his new-found golf partners and launched an online forum that has blossomed into a club without walls named the Eighty Club.
It is part of a growing trend of non-traditional, course-less clubs with names such as The Outpost Club, Sugarloaf Social Club, Thousand Greens, The Links, and The Eden Club. Some of these clubs are based on accessing private clubs and arranging reciprocal play—often with concierge service—others are just like-minded golfers who occasionally take trips.
“I realized there were a lot of people just like me that really enjoyed showing off their clubs and having people out that hadn’t seen it before, people that liked to travel and have new experiences and younger people that liked to geek out about golf on the Internet,” Ogle says.
It’s a concept almost as old as the game itself. Dating to Scotland in the 18th century, golf societies are gaining popularity in the U.S., where membership at multiple private country clubs traditionally has been a symbol of status.
Breaking Eighty already has attracted more than 150 members paying $500 per year, and who can gain guest-access to play at an impressive peer group of architecturally significant private courses. (Ogle ticked off a list of Top 100 courses, but asked that specific names not be published.) The membership, which consists of golfers from more than 200 clubs from 14 different countries and 33 states, runs the gamut from young whippersnappers in college to graybeards in their 70s, with the bulk of its devotees in their early 30s to 40s. Two-thirds of its membership is referrals while the rest joined after discovering its website or Instagram account. Members don’t have to be part of a Top-100 club, but it is a requirement to be paying dues at a private club.
Ogle boasts of his thriving online community, and recounts the story of the time a member posted of a last-minute cancellation on a 10-day group trip to Ireland and someone leaped at the chance to fill the spot.
“They never would have connected otherwise,” Ogle says. “There are so many different versions of that story I could tell you.”
Friendly competitions and outings intended to foster camaraderie with one another also have been a big hit. Ogle’s organized a handful so far, with the inaugural club championship for the Eighty Club held at Stonewall Golf Club outside of Philadelphia.
That pales in comparison to The Outpost Club, an invitation-only, national golf society formed in 2010, which hosts north of 70 events for its 750+ members, both domestic and internationally, or what co-founder Colin Sheehan, men’s coach of the Yale golf team, calls “the most ambitious event schedule in the history of golf.”
“We aren’t looking to take people away from their current club or become a substitute for a traditional club membership,” says 1996 U.S. Amateur runner-up Steve Scott, the PGA Head Golf Professional of The Outpost Club. “People want to play new courses, and they want to play architecturally significant courses under tournament conditions.”
Scott oversees 20 events as well as managing the club’s year-long, nationwide match-play event “The Knockout!” which pairs up 250 golfers in a handicap (lightweight) and scratch division (heavyweight). He says a third of its membership is in the 25–39 age-demographic.
With golfers of all ages traveling more both for business and pleasure and a younger generation that is likely to change jobs and move more frequently than its predecessors, the course-less club concept should continue to thrive.
“There’s a demand,” Ogle says. “It’s easy to set up, but the ones that will last are the ones that figure out what their niche is in this world.”
Would you join a club that doesn’t have a home course? Let us know in the comments!