On the other hand, we have Oakmont. The beauty of these kinds of clubs is that it gathers all the nuts in one place and then busts them. (insert punch line here)
I love tough courses, but there is a PB Dye course (that sells memberships) 15 minutes away that I would not join at any price. My initial perception of the course difficulty was that it is designed to punish "good" shots. With experience and charity I'll say that to score well on that course you need to learn the course first and then hit the shots that it demands. So for the greens that are shaped like upside down bowls, you must hit bump and run approaches instead of trying to stop a high wedge shot. And for the blind dogleg that slopes away after the dogleg to redirect shots that land in the middle of the fairway into the rough, well you have to memorize those features that you can't see and land your drives in the rough so that they trickle onto the fairway. If I played the course 10 more times I could easily memorize where all the gimmicks are and start to figure out what shots Mr Dye demands that I hit. Maybe 30 more times after that I could actually get decent at hitting the demanded shots and start scoring. For some people this would be a worthy enough challenge to get them to join. For me, I might have considered it. But when the staff treated me like they were doing me a favor to let me play on their aerated course at full price, I decided that this course was just a super expensive and super snooty version of mini-golf.
There's another course close by (Whiskey Creek - Ernie Els design) that is also expensive and tricked up. The last hole is a 547 yard par 5 with the remnants of an old stone farm house (+ tall tree) sitting smack dab in the middle of the fairway.If you hit a good drive down the middle of the fairway, there's a fair chance that house is going to cost you a stroke. But the trouble is plainly visible and all strategic options are available (left/right/short/long/draw/fade/high/low) to deal with what amounts to a largish vertical bunker. My initial perception was that the course was too gimmicky and not well managed (one green had a pin placement/stimpmeter combo that turned it into a putt putt hole). But the starter was waiting for me at the turn to apologize for the misplaced pin (I had not complained) and asked for my opinion of the course at the end of the round. When I told him I did not have a good time and probably would not return, he gave me his card with free round on the back and encouraged me to give it another try. These guys "get it". On the second round I was able to recognize the "gimmicks" as thought provokers instead of "things that pissed me off". From the tips it's 74.8/136. It's out of my price range for regular play, but I greatly enjoy my occasional visits. On those visits I have observed that Ernie did a great job of positioning the forward tees to allow recreational golfers the opportunity to enjoy their round instead of getting their nuts busted.
Skiing has some of the same kind of "problem" resorts. Whether the resort is ridiculously over intimidating (no names mentioned Taos - Al's run) or ridiculously over opulent (no names mentioned Deer Valley - valet ski unloading), they turn off just as many potential customers as they attract and rarely leave visitors emotionally in the middle. The beauty of niche marketing is that if you are unique enough, you can probably get enough customers to prosper if you're well run. But if you're living on the edge of a niche, there's a razor thin margin for error (e.g. Taos allowing snowboarding risked alienating their core customer base but turned out to be wildly successful). So although Phil's comment may be mostly accurate, it does not necessarily mean it must be taken literally.