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JEBB HARRIS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Brenda Swantko takes advantage of beautiful weather to hit the driving range at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine. Orange County has some of the best golf clubs in California. Owing to the recession, membership in country clubs is a bargain compared to a few years ago.
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What's next, the 99 cent Country Club?

What's next, the 99 cent Country Club?

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Want to save $10,000, $20,000, even $50,000? Not enough? How about $175,000?

Join a country club.

Because of the recession, the best bargain in Orange County right now isn't at Big Lots. It's at our country clubs.

And you don't have to spend much on gas. With at least 15 private or semiprivate clubs in our little chunk of paradise, there's one near you.

I'm not talking public clubs or public golf courses. Pish.

Oh, just one thing.

As with all discounts, you will have to spend money to save money.

•••

The old saying, "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it," is silly. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, wants a price and, yes, everyone wants that price to be a bargain.

So what does it cost to join a country club in these tough economic times?

A lot less than it did in 2007.

Nearly one in seven clubs, nationally, is financially challenged, according to the National Golf Foundation. And many more than that – roughly nine in ten – are offering some kind of discount.

Some clubs I contacted locally were shy about divulging information. Others were vague. But many were open about the impact of the economy.

Bottom line: These are good times to be a duffer of taste and refinement, or just a happy golfer who can afford to have what clubs refer to as "amenities."

Not familiar with country clubs?

I'll fill you in. My credentials include being kicked out of the club where my wife grew up swimming, dining and playing tennis. My cutoff jeans didn't cut it. My future mother-in-law was not impressed.

So what's the big deal with country clubs?

You know those tiny metal lockers in high school? Clubs have big, varnished wood lockers.

You know how the mighty lobster you saw on TV shrinks when you get into the chain restaurant? At the club, you're looking at multiple servings.

You know those golfers who want to play through when you're already swinging as fast as you can? At the club, proper golf etiquette is part of the deal.

So, what's it cost to go clubbing?

•••

Let's start with Shady Canyon Golf Club where literature describes an award-winning course of "great natural beauty, a place where families gather, where new friendships are made and where camaraderie endures."

Though Shady Canyon General Manager Steve Buck says last year was the club's most challenging year ever, the check for enduring camaraderie still runs six digits.

The original $300,000 initiation fee at Shady has been modified with what the club describes as a "float system." This allows members to sell their memberships for as little as $125,000.

With 39 memberships sold and the program a success, Shady Canyon introduced a "social membership program." This doesn't include golf, but it does allow families to try the club for $425 a month. At the end of the trial, they can apply those monthly payments to the $10,000 social membership fee.

Ah, you say even those discounts are a wee bit out of your range? May I offer Coto de Caza Golf & Racquet Club?

Alice Arimitsu, membership director, reports Coto has cut is menu of initiation fees by at least one-third and as much as two-thirds. Premium golf membership now goes for $25,000-$65,000.

"Every single club in the marketplace came down and we're no different," Arimitsu explains. She calls Coto, with its two premium golf courses, a "good value."

Don't play golf? No worries. Coto also offers a 44,000-square-foot craftsman-style clubhouse and a 13,000-square-foot spa and sports club.

Is that all?

Please.

Coto also boasts 10 hard-surface tennis courts, three pools, a whirlpool, formal and informal dining, and spa treatments.

My favorite feature? No cut-offs, but Coto does allow jeans.

•••

Newport Beach Country Club is coy about price. Let's just say the initiation fee is in the mid-five figures. But the club's Web site offers "for a very limited time, a non-transferable membership" at half price.

There's also a reduced fee structure, says Dolores Virtue, membership manager. She tells me the change is to help would be club members hit by the economy.

Newport increased the top age for its Junior Executive membership program from 38 to 41. The club also reduced dues for members ages 21-34. Regular monthly dues are $720, but ages 21-30 pay dues of $400 while members ages 31-34 pay $550.

What does that kind of dough buy?

Home to The Toshiba Classic, Newport boasts "an unmistakable feeling of warmth and casual sophistication... a sense of tradition nurtured over time and proudly upheld by four generations of members."

Don't like mid-five figures? How about low fives?

Aliso Viejo Country Club is about to go private with five memberships left out of a total 475, General Manager Rick Williams reports. Last year, memberships were sold at half off. Now, the club offers incentives such as a set of golf clubs.

But wait! There's more!

Dove Canyon Country Club offers "a variety of affordable memberships to meet your needs including golf and social memberships."

Mission Viejo Country Club "provides its members, their home away from home – a place to connect, relax, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life."

Compared to, say, Costco, the club life may not seem so simple.

But wait until my wife discovers how much we can save.

David Whiting's column appears News One Fridays, Sundays, Wednesdays, Life/Outdoors Tuesdays, dwhiting@ocregister.com.


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