Nice Set of Clubs

Reluctant to sign your life and savings away to just one private golf course? Try Tour GCX instead.
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There are lots of reasons to join a private golf club.

Better manicured courses. No hoi polloi hackers in Hawaiian shirts. The staff in the pro shop, caddie shack and locker room know your name and at least pretend to like you. There are free cashews in the grill room. The list goes on.

But there are just as many reasons

not

to join a private golf club. It rarely makes any economic sense on a cost-per-round basis. You may well love the layout but loathe the old-goat members who have ruled the roost since the Great Depression.

And, well, it's like a marriage: One course, basically, till death do you part -- until another, sexier club catches your eye.

This is assuming the private club anoints you in the first place, and we all know Groucho Marx's thoughts on that: "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member."

Gaining entree through the gates can be as cruel a game as golf itself; we're reminded of Heidi Klum's terse signature line to contestants on her fashion world reality show, "

Project Runway": "You're in, or you're out."

Tour GCX Partners offers a third way. Its members qualify via an application process mimicking (albeit it with less attitude) that of private golf clubs -- ascertaining financial means, collecting character references and checking for an understanding of the game's etiquette and sufficient playing ability.

Those who make the grade pay $6,250 annually for 10 unescorted foursomes (or three- or twosomes, if you somehow lack playing partners) on any of the 24 private clubs currently in the company's network -- most within reach of New York City, but also a handful in Las Vegas and one in Florida.

Tour GCX won't permit the public release of member clubs' names except to individual applicants, but two have hosted major championships in their history (sorry, it's not Winged Foot or Baltusrol), and there's not a dog in the bunch.

The benefit to the private clubs is twofold: They're getting an added revenue stream and meeting viable prospective members, at a time when many such facilities are struggling to fill their rosters.

For the golfers themselves, Tour GCX appeals to the commitment-phobic: It introduces them to clubs they may ultimately wish to join, as well as the private club lifestyle, without having to plunk down a five- or six-figure initiation fee plus a four- or five-figure annual dues bill. And at around $150 per round, it doesn't cost them and their friends much more than the greens fee at some of the top upscale daily-fee courses where they would otherwise tee up.

The program is small but rapidly gaining in popularity, with 450 members as of April 1, up from 80 at the end of 2004, its first year in operation.

"I spent a good year sampling private clubs in the metropolitan area and couldn't find the right fit," says Phil Rosenstrach, 34, a veteran hedge fund manager. "Either the location wasn't perfect, the course wasn't great, I didn't have the proper connections at the club, or they only wanted someone who's already married -- there was always something that kept me from pulling the trigger. Tour GCX has been a nice compromise in the meantime, and the numbers certainly work."

Tour GCX members receive a tour card that stores available golf rounds and has a debit card feature permitting holders buy food and beverages, pro shop merchandise and even private lessons at the partner clubs.

Members set up tee times, which can be made from two weeks to 24 hours in advance (and seven of the 10 times must be made for weekday play), by calling the company's central reservation desk. They then receive two email confirmations, the second with driving directions and what to do upon arrival.

This generally entails simply signing in at the pro shop, where, in two experiences with the service, Tour GCX members are indeed treated like welcome guests rather than interlopers, and escorted to the locker room where a locker with a personalized nameplate awaits.

Tour GCX also hosts 10 special event golf outings annually on some superior private courses (none among the company's partner clubs), the proceeds benefiting the Metropolitan Golf Association, which supports initiatives such as the

First Tee Foundation. It is also developing travel packages for members, including a trip to the

2006 Ryder Cup and partner programs with high-end vendors such as

Astor & Black Custom Clothiers.

For alligator-armed golfers loath to reach into their own pocket under any circumstances -- you know who you are -- there's another route to the fairways.

Tour GCX offers a corporate membership program, too. A company can purchase a block of tee times and designate qualified employees (who still must be vetted by Tour GCX's board of admissions) to the membership roll.

When making your sales pitch to upper management, you may wish to underscore what a cost-effective client entertainment solution this offers -- far less expensive than a corporate membership at a single club, and more geographically flexible to boot.

For more information, visit

tourgcx.com or call Jonathan Halpern at 212-685-2200 x203.

Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.