The country’s most exclusive golf club? It might surprise you

the clubhouse at bandon dunes golf resort

Bandon Golf Club isn't snobby, but the membership is tiny, the waiting list is long and the criteria for admission strict.

Courtesy Bandon Dunes Golf Resort

What’s the most exclusive golf club in the country? Before you suggest one of the usual suspects — Cypress Point, Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills and so on — allow us to nominate a lesser-known contender, headquartered in a quiet coastal town in Oregon that has gained an outsize presence in the game.

As with a lot of hard-to-access clubs, the membership is tiny, a roster of 60, with nearly as many on the waiting list. It’s not a snobby outfit. The right bloodlines and bankroll aren’t required for entry. But the rules are rigid.

Not just anyone gets to join the Bandon Golf Club.

“We always say we have the best deal in the world of golf,” club president David Miller says.

The terms of that deal include special privileges at a nearby resort with a similar name. Though Bandon Golf Club is not to be confused with Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, the two are inseparable, connected since birth.

The origin story goes like this. When Bandon Dunes opened, 25 years ago this month, the Oregon Golf Association and the United States Golf Association both expressed interest in someday holding amateur tournaments on the grounds. For a property to stage such competitions, protocol says it needs an affiliated club.

“And because we wanted to make sure we did things the right way, we started one,” says Josh Lesnik of KemperSports, which has managed the resort since opening day.

The membership bylaws were simple but strict. To be eligible to join, you had to reside in either Coos County, where Bandon is situated, or neighboring Curry County, and you had to be a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.

As the head of a family-run timber company that has been in the area for four generations, David Miller fit the bill. He also happened to be an avid golfer. At the time, nearby outlets for the game were scarce. Miller was a member of Coos Golf Club, a then 9-hole course (it has since expanded to 18 holes) 30 minutes up the coast. The town of Bandon also had a scruffy 9-hole layout. But otherwise, nada.  

Joining the Bandon Golf Club sure sounded good. Miller signed on as a president. Two other local businessmen joined to form a three-person board, and together they helped round up 25 founding members.

Annual dues were $175. The benefits were worth much more: every Tuesday throughout the year (and Monday through Thursday in April, May, June, July and December), club members could play at Bandon for the highly discounted rate of $35. A quarter-century later, that arrangement remains the same, except for the greens fee, which has soared to $50. These days, the general public pays $110 to $350 to play at Bandon, depending on the season.

the club logo at bandon dunes golf resort
The logo of the Bandon Golf Club. Courtesy Bandon Dunes

Over that same period, as most serious golfers know, Bandon Dunes has grown exponentially, now with five 18-hole courses and two par-3 courses, while emerging as one of the game’s marquee destinations. Bandon Golf Club, meanwhile, has barely budged in scale. Only a few dozen extras have been brought into the fold. More people would like in.

But, Miller says, “we’ve kept it pretty small.”

In many ways, it’s like any other club. It has a logo — the tufted puffin, the original mascot of Bandon Dunes, with “Bandon Golf Club” written beside it — which gets printed on caps, shirts and other swag. And it holds annual events, including a club championship that Miller has won a couple of times against competition that isn’t always fierce. Most Bandon Golf Club members are better-known as business leaders and community volunteers than they are for being serious sticks.

Among them is Beth Wood, who moved to Bandon in the mid-1980s with her husband, Ed, and for decades ran a cookware store in town. A relatively latecomer to the game, Wood took to it with gusto when she joined the Bandon Golf Club, enjoying all the perks, which include the right to bring six guests a year. Wood used to get out weekly, and though she has cut back on that frequency in recent years (“We’re all getting older,” she says), she wouldn’t dream of giving up her membership, the dues for which are now $400 a year. She knows how coveted it is.

“Spots really only open when someone dies or leaves,” Wood says.

And no one wants to do either of those.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.