Let’s just say it would be customary in this space to feature a single experience, a particular venue in a bucket list location, a landing strip for a dream round. We might talk about Bandon Dunes, or The Concession Club or Pebble Beach.
Or in this case, we might talk about all of them, put a number of dazzling destinations on the table, turn the bucket list into a “been there” book, change the question from “where” to “where else.”
Welcome to the Friars Club. The golf world is your oyster.
No, the club doesn’t have a building in the heart of New York City, doesn’t televise celebrity roasts, isn’t composed of comedians, talk-show hosts or Rat Pack figures. At least not on that scale. To be more precise, this is the Friars Golf Club, the oldest society of its kind in the U.S., where the passion is for golf and the possibilities are seemingly endless. This is where scorecards are savored, good times are treasured and ungracious behavior is banned.
And if you’re into golf, that’s entertainment.
You don’t have to be “somebody” to be in this club. You just have to correctly answer two important questions: “Do you love golf?” and “Are you an a–hole?”
If the answers are “yes” and “no” — in that order — welcome aboard. If they’re anything else, you need not apply.
The unique congregation of golf enthusiasts was founded in 1994, with a pretext as simple as it is alluring. The diverse membership includes young professionals, retired moms and pops and everything in between. Various genders, race and ethnic backgrounds participate. Social standing is irrelevant, and skill level is not determining.
“It’s not spin, it’s really true,” said Friars executive director Don Bostic. “They are all really interesting people, with a lot of different businesses and backgrounds. And they all have one thing in common — a passion for golf. The magic is when you bring these people together as strangers on a trip and they become friends and everybody has a great time. That’s what we do.”
The Friars roster has grown to some 730 members, representing 40 different states and 10 countries. The youngest member is 20, the oldest is 87. What they all have in common is their enthusiasm for the game and appreciation for the relationships and experiences it fosters.
Members don’t just gather at one golf club, they gather at a variety of golf clubs around the globe, the kind you read about, the kind that create photo-ops and fill scrapbooks, the kind that solder life-long friendships. Last year’s schedule included Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, Calusa Pines in Naples, Florida, and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia … just to name a few.
The club has nearly 40 outings scheduled for 2022, which include trips to Northern Ireland, Sand Valley in Wisconsin and Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina. The events range in size and scope, built to accommodate a short “buddy weekend,” or a week-long excursion for large groups. Two things are guaranteed — spectacular golf and delightful companionship.
No one is more qualified to speak to the dynamics than Bostic. Not only is he the executive director of the Friars Golf Club, he is a product of the camaraderie it nurtures.
Bostic grew up in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, blue-collar not blue-blooded. He was a typical kid, played sports growing up, bussed tables to put gas in the car. After high school, he attended the University of North Florida on a scholarship and majored in business.
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All the while, he learned to appreciate golf while playing with his father, who never broke 90 but never let his score spoil the fun or affect his time with his son. The younger Bostic became a decent stick, even capturing a Par 3 contest at a golf camp he attended, a trophy still proudly displayed in his office.
Most importantly, Bostic learned to value the spiritually rewarding aspects of golf that have little to do with trophies. He loved the experiences with his father and friends, the post-round Cokes, the stories shared, the connections made.
While never good enough to pursue a playing profession, Bostic knew he wanted to be part of that world. Out of school, he took a job as a caddie at Sea Island, where he looped for accomplished people, and learned invaluable lessons about interacting with people and building relationships.
After five years at Sea Island, he opened the caddie program at TPC Sawgrass and subsequently spent time in a similar role at Whistling Straits. He made his way to The Greenbriar, then became director of sales at Pinehurst, where his client list included a virtual who’s who of the golf industry.
The Friars became one of his clients, and Bostic developed a relationship with one of the club’s owners, Jeff Ranzulli. With the membership roll growing and the horizons expanding, Ranzulli realized the club needed a full-time director. He offered the hospitality- and managerial-savvy Bostic the position. Bostic pinched himself … then accepted.
“After I listened, I said, ‘OK, so you’re going to pay me to basically be a fraternity club president, and tour the world and play golf with my friends — that sounds pretty amazing,’ ” said Bostic, who took the directorship position in February, 2018. “It’s been a dream job.”
Of course, Bostic’s glamorous description of the jobs leaves out a few details. That is, trips to Royal County Down or Shoal Creek don’t just happen. His “dream job” involves a lot of balls in the air — literally and figuratively — and quite a bit of work.
And that’s kind of the whole point.
For club members, planning a trip is no more stressful than visiting the club’s Facebook page or opening the Friars’ cell phone app. They pick the trip they want, make a deposit and they’re done. The travel logistics, hotel accommodations, dining arrangements, tee times and/or extracurricular activities are arranged. The $5 Nassau will be more complicated.
Moreover, it keeps getting better. Post-pandemic golf has been a booming business on every level, even more so with travel restrictions easing. As such, Bostic continues to expand the club’s trip-building, fun-filling radar. For instance, the annual schedule includes four trips designated as “majors,” a “Florida swing” and the “Friars Cup” team match play event. A Friars Golf Club Pro Shop now is available online, as well as ways to connect with members and play their home courses.
Make no mistake, as with any golf club, there is competition to be had. It’s OK to be serious about golf — just not too serious. “We run competitions from event to event for those who want to participate,” Bostic said. “And we try to do it as close to USGA rules as possible, but we don’t have out of bounds and we do allow a mulligan on the first tee, so I’m not sure the USGA would approve of that.
“But the games are nominal. We would never want to make someone feel uncomfortable or make someone get mad about missing a putt. We’re not trying to identify who the best golfer is. There are clubs that are like that, but it’s not what we’re about.”
Instead, for the relatively modest initiation of $750 and annual membership fee of $150, the Friars Golf Club is about celebrating the game, the venues and the company — not necessarily in any particular order. Oh, and yes, if you’re wondering, the “no a–hole” policy is enforced.
“We have had to enforce the rule maybe two or three times in my four years doing this,” Bostic acknowledged. “At the end of day, you know, the policy is kind of funny, but it’s also important. You can’t go to these places and have boorish behavior. The facilities aren’t going to put up with it and, frankly, our members don’t want to put up with it.”
What the Friars Golf Club will put up with is great golf courses, great company and great experiences. If you don’t love that, you need not apply.
(Note: Buffalo Groupe is a majority stakeholder in the Friars Golf Club. Buffalo also owns and operates Morning Read.)