Q&A with Mike Clayton on the “Aussie Club Model”

Mike Clayton had a very successful Amateur & Professional Golf career prior to turning to golf architecture. For the last 25 years, Mike has turned his focus to golf architecture. He is a part of CDP (Clayton, DeVries, Pont) Golf Architecture firm. I wanted Mike to introduce our US Golfers to the Aussie Club Model and hopefully shed some light on alternative approaches as well as to clear up any misconceptions. Too many times people want to compare the Top ranked clubs, such as Oakmont to Royal Melbourne, which is far from my concern. I’ve converted all the costs to US dollars. You may have to look up the Doak scale meaning, which is referenced in the Q&A. Thanks to Brendan James of Golf Australia for some of the photo content.

Metro 13th

TWG- Does the average Australian club (maybe a Doak 6), have around 1,000 single members? What does the average Aussie club charge? My guess is $2,500-$4,000 US dollars? The average US Doak 6, is $6,000-$12,000 a year.

MC- It depends a bit on the city. Sydney golf is the most expensive- for a few reasons. It’s the biggest city, the wealthiest, and there is a great golf supply shortage. The best courses can name their price. The Lakes is $25,000 US to join. Royal Sydney has 6,000 members but only about 1,500 of them play golf. Everyone though pays the same $4,600 US annual subscription.

Melbourne is next but the supply and demand works the opposite way. There is so much great golf in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula (9 Doak 7’s and above compared with 1-NSW- in Sydney) that the prices are very competitive. The top clubs- Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Victoria, Peninsula, & Metropolitan are all around $10,000 US initiations/joining fees. The annual fee is $4,200 US! The National is a transferable share (about $10,000 US atm) and an annual fee about the same. They have 3 courses on their Mornington Peninsula site, it’s a long island closer to the city.

Port Fairy is a tremendous links 3.5 hours from Melbourne (Doak called it the best $49 golf in the world). They have about 600 members all paying about $540 US annually. It’s the best value membership in the country. The club is in excellent financial shape. Three on the grounds staff.

Portsea- A Doak 6, is 90 minutes from Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula is $1,700 US. It’s really struggling financially and talking of merging with Sorrento- 5 minutes up the road, a Doak 5 with a 2-year waiting list! Sorento is the club for RM, KH, and Metro members on the holidays.

The top clubs in Adelaide are Royal Adelaide (Doak 8), Kooyonga, Grange (2 courses) are Doak 6’s, Glenelg (Doak 5), and Perth’s Lake Karrinyup (Doak 7) are all around $3,000 US.

Healesville 8th by Andrew Anderson

TWG- At Aussie clubs, whether you are social, dining, or golf member, will you pay the same $? Do you have different designated memberships (social, dining, pool), or is everyone just all members without classifications? Do Aussie clubs try to get X amount of Golf members, X amount of Pool members, and X dinning?

MC- There are a lot of membership categories, 5-day, 6-day, 7-day, junior (14-24), (25-30), and some have under 40. There are no separate non-golf memberships.

Royal Sydney has 6,000 members all paying $4,600 US. Some are just bridge members, other tennis, or gym.

Victoria 7th

TWG- US folks think high $$$$ International play subsidizes your Aussie model. My guess is that your top Aussie clubs had high international demand (due to lists), that they built fancier trappings to accommodate those list chasers and that high $$$$ ticket price goes to pay those fancier trappings? Royal Melbourne’s prior clubhouse looked extremely small and functional.

MC- International fees do subsidize the World Top 100 clubs to some extent- RM charges $750+caddy and KH, Metro, Vic are between $300-400 for internationals. NSW, is probably the same, but that’s it really. The rest aren’t relying on international play but lots of interstate play and member’s guests.

In 2019 Barnbougle for the first time had more international players than Tasmanian players!

Royal Melbourne needed a new clubhouse because the 1960’s one was pretty ordinary. The original burnt down some in the 40’s and they had a ‘temporary’ one for years.

I don’t think they built fancier trappings for international players, but many have really improved the golf architecture and that’s been noticed and a big attraction for overseas players. The Kingston Heath of 1980 wouldn’t be in the world top 100 now and Victoria is unimaginably better than it was in 1995. The National with the new Gunnamatta course is a must-see as are the two redone courses at Peninsula Kingswood.

RM was always great. Those courses alone make Melbourne a ‘must-see’ for internationals. In 1980 only RM was in that category. Barnbougle is a huge new attraction, as is Cape Wickham, but it’s harder to get to.

Lakes 8th

TWG- Comparing Aussie and US clubs is a much better comparison then the UK imo, because you have similar disease pressure and maintenance budgets to our 2nd and 3rd tier privates. Your climate is more in align with Atlanta, GA & L.A., than London or Scotland.

MC- No doubt we spend more money than the UK on conditioning courses in the capital cities-Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

Melbourne’s climate (perfect for playing year-round golf) is probably similar to Southern California. Queensland is Florida like. Sydney more humid than Melbourne but nowhere near Qld. I haven’t spent much time in Atlanta, but probably similar. Perth is hot and dry. Tasmania is the perfect climate for great golf because it’s the only place cool enough to grow fescue.

Peninsula Kingswood North 14th by Larry Lambrecht

TWG- I hear there are very few caddies in Australia? Doesn’t the majority of folks use Trolleys or carry?

MC- If you went to every single club in Australia today I doubt you’d find a single caddy, it’s staggering. Most use a buggy-our word for a ‘trolley’. Queensland has lots of carts and there are more here, but not at the top clubs without a medical certificate.

I caddied-starting in 1969 and did it for 3 years and loved it. 36 holes on Saturday for $2.20 and a sandwich at lunch A ball then was $1-so the equivalent now would be around $10 for the 36. That’s not happening now, right?

In the US, you have push/pull carts, in the UK they call them trolleys, in AU they are buggy’s, and in New Zealand they are trundlers.


TWG- At the typical Aussie club, are you more prone to see a doctor, plumber, roofer, & accountant all playing in the same 4some? Less blue vs white collar divide like the US has?

MC- No plumbers or roofers at RM, Metro, RS, or Lake Karrinyup-but at Portsea or Port Fairy that is exactly what you find- and why they are great clubs. The Lakes is a great example with an eclectic membership in Sydney. In the country the local clubs are hugely important socially and there you find a great mix.

Barnbougle Dunes 7th by Jacob Sjöman

TWG- Are clubhouse sq. ft. size in Australia similar to the US? I’d guess the average US clubhouse would be 35,000sqft. Are weddings at Aussie clubs a thing? You do have a 12 month season and a much larger membership, where many of our Northern clubs have 7-8 month golf season with much smaller memberships.

MC-Hard to generalize but we are dealing with a much bigger memberships and fields, so city clubs tend to have big clubhouses. Big locker rooms too, a legacy of the dark ages when members had to change into a jacket and tie after golf to have a drink. Thankfully those days are over.

Curlewis 3rd & 4th

TWG- In the US, many golfers are impressed with exclusive soup clubs, where only 20 people play a day. Do Aussie’s like full tee sheets and to see many folks enjoying the course? Some friends I have think making a tee time is a drag and like having no tee times.

MC-The financial model demands a big playing membership. There are people who have suggested a $7,500 US annual, getting rid of 600 members and leaving 500. Making it a more exclusive model. The problem with that is most of the people I want to play with would be amongst the 600 to leave.

We are used to full tee sheets and have no problem with them. KH made a conscious decision to limit rounds to 43,000 a year. Victoria does 55,000 rounds and is the busiest of the sand-belt clubs.

Port Fairy 15th

TWG- What % of Aussie clubs are Private vs Public? In the US, about 15% are Private & 85% are Public. US Journalists (I use that lightly) will portray golf as elitist, when 85% of our courses are public.

MC- Most courses are ‘private’ but we do have a lot of local gov’t owned courses. They lease them out to private operators typically for 25 years.

Most (almost all) country clubs have members but rely on public play. If you are driving through Australia, there is barely a course outside of a capital city you can’t play. Only in the city are there private clubs where non-members can’t just walk up and play. They need to play with a member.

Bonnie Doon 15th

TWG- Are there any other cultural or structural differences I missed between Aussie clubs and US clubs?

MC- Australians are uncomfortable with the ‘intrusive service’ in America, generally whether it be at a restaurant or a golf club. If a kid came up to us in the car park and wanted to take our clubs somewhere, we’d all feel very uncomfortable about it. “No worries mate, I’ve got it. Thanks”

We have way more (and way too much) competition golf. Tues is Women’s day, Wed & Thur are men’s comps. Men’s and women’s comps on the weekend. By comps, I mean strictly by the rules, no gimmees, no mulligan and put a card in for handicap-something Australians are obsessed by!

TWG would like to thank Mike Clayton for taking time out of his schedule to educate us on another countries culture. Australia has a great walking culture and one we should try and mimic. Hopefully this will be of assistance to any struggling clubs in the US out there. Nothing is worse than losing a golf course with a walking routing to Real Estate. Maintaining recreational green space if very important in preserving pastimes in our communities.

Healesville 8th green
Victoria 11th
Victoria 15th

Ben Cowan

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