Having been a public course golfer most of my life (had a JR membership at the local country club in high school), I am always pretty excited when I get to play a private course. The quality of the course, the service, the exclusivity and the lack of 4-somes backed up for miles to see are all part of the experience that goes with playing at a private course. And if you don't get to do that often it is a nice change from your regular Saturday morning tee time. But getting the opportunity to play a private course can be a challenge, but there are more ways to accomplish this than you might realize.
The most common way that people think about when it comes to playing a private course is by knowing a member and having them invite you. And depending on how exclusive of a course it is, this might be the only way you are getting through that gate.
When a member brings a guest to the club, they are vouching for that person and everything they will do. Any bad behavior from the guest is a direct impact on the member. With that in mind, members aren't bringing acquaintances, just people they know well and trust.
If you don't happen to be in the circle of trust with some members of private courses, don't worry as you have many other options. Most options aren't going to be cheap, but usually worth it to try at least once. One great option in Central Iowa is the Wakonda Golf Experience, which allows you to buy a round of golf at Wakonda Club ($160/person or $300/2-some for 2018). I did this in 2017 and played 2 weeks before the Principal Charity Classic when most of the grandstands were constructed, giving it a fun setting to play several of the holes in. You can see that in numerous pictures of Wakonda on this site.
The Iowa Golf Association host "Member Play Days" a few times each year. These events are held at private or higher level public courses throughout the state. In recent years Glen Oaks and Echo Valley have been included. The Minnesota Golf Association also hosts Member events at similar golf clubs in the state. The rate is usually around what the standard guest rate is at the club.
Play in state tournaments. The IGA hosts numerous state golf tournaments each year and there are always a few held at private courses. Also there are numerous other tournaments held at private courses, several are found on our tournaments page.
If you are really good and qualify from a handicap standpoint, USGA amateur qualifying tournaments are held across the country and many times on private courses. For example, in 2018 the US Open local qualifier in Iowa is at Glen Oaks. USGA qualifiers and state tournaments usually cost more, the US Open qualifier coming in at $200 this year, and aren't the relaxing round you might be looking for.
Looking for options outside of Iowa? The TPC Network usually offers people the option to buy rounds at some of their private courses across the country (TPC Twin Cities, TPC River's Bend, TPC Boston, etc). Most of these courses hold some type of PGA Tour/LPGA/Champions Tour events and are great facilities. The catch with this is that this option is only offered to people with a MasterCard credit card. All the courses & dates included for 2018 can be found here. The rates vary by course but are actually pretty affordable and come with some additional perks. There are also other private club offerings that MasterCard has, but come at higher price points. Those also can be found on the previous link.
Then there are charity golf tournaments. Playing golf for a great cause is always enjoyable. The range of options is large here, from $100 for an entry fee to $1250/golfer (biggest entry fee I know of around Des Moines) for the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Classic at Talons of Tuscany.
If you know of other good ways to get on a private course, or know of a good charity golf tournament coming up that you want to share, let us know about it in the comments below.