The four well-dressed gentlemen and two wee caddies above are making social history. This picture, which was the earliest golf image ever taken in this nation was taken at the St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York. It depicts golfers on the green. It is the year 1888.1 It was at St. Andrews, the first country club in the United States where golf was played, that the game earned its reputation as a pastime practiced by people from more affluent social classes. The ensuing popularity of golf led to the proliferation of country clubs nationwide.
boca Raton country club has developed into a socially significant element of American society in the years since the first men from Boca Raton stepped foot on their muddy courses. Despite the importance of the clubs, there hasn’t been a lot of significant research done on them. On the following page, you’ll find the first of two articles that discuss country clubs, including their history, manners, and more.
Part I: TuxedoPark to Family Junction
The country club is one of the defining characteristics of our mobile, suburban culture. The country club is an institution that is peculiar to the United States of America. It has gone through a revolutionary transformation throughout its 80 years of existence. Originally a patrician playground loosely designed after a magnificent English country home with its lazy weekend, the country club is evolving into a year-round family fun center that looks more like the local bowling palace out on Route 1 than any plutocratic pleasure dome.
In the United States, there are 3,300 different country clubs. A total of 1.7 million people are members of the group. Around 3,000 of these clubs are traditional, with members owning them individually. They collect almost $250 million in dues and fees each year around the country. Food and drinks worth $500 million are sold there. The typical club has 400 to 600 members, pays $100,000 to $150,000 in yearly dues, and sells $150,000 to $250,000 in food and beverages.
Surprisingly, the country club has received almost little attention from sociologists. Only the authors Sinclair Lewis, J. P. Marquand, and John O’Hara have thoroughly investigated it. Perhaps in Appointment in Samarra, published in 1934, O’Hara, with his lethal social insight, carved the clearest image of the “th0065 country-club set.” As good as the book. If O’Hara were writing it now, he may have to make some changes. For example, sex seems to be on the decline at the club (due to the expanding family influence, of course), and gin rummy has superseded bridge as the most popular card game.
Americans join country clubs for several reasons, most of which are linked. The following seem to be the primary reasons:
The game’s popularity is at an all-time high, yet playing on a public course at one’s leisure is almost impossible. In the early 1930s, there was one course for every 21,000 Americans. Now, there is only one course for every 29,000 Americans. The number of female golfers has increased by 44 percent in the previous decade.
Membership in a club firmly establishes a member’s and his family’s status in the local hierarchy.
It’s a physical sign that you’ve “arrived.” (After Sunday Mass in Chicago, Irish Catholics announced their presence by brunching at the South Shore Country Club.) “It’s all about the status,” one club’s management adds.
“Through the impersonal urbanization process, we have become a nation of near-strangers,” argues Charles F. Hathaway, a Los Angeles club manager who researched more than 200 country clubs while completing doctoral work at Michigan State. “When we are among our kind, such as in our club, the danger of interaction with persons who are quite different from us is significantly reduced.” (At the Mount Prospect Country Club in Chicago, top gangsters sought each other’s company. When the club got into financial troubles a few years ago, local citizens who had joked about the Mafia Open at the time chose to buy it out.)
“Unless you belong to a country club,” a Louisville railroad guy adds. “you’re nothing in the eyes of some of your business contacts.” According to a Chicago executive, “The club is a kind of grease, similar to a fraternity. It makes it simpler for you to get new clients.” Business infiltrates country clubs from coast to coast. A Boston advertising business employs a low-70s golfer whose only responsibility is to warm up potential customers on the course. A Seattle business has engaged “an Ivy League type for the same objective.” “We need a guy who can play excellent golf and has all the social graces to bring in the business that will be picked up around clubs,” a partner explains. “Our guy performs an excellent job. He’s not a terrific lawyer, but he doesn’t have to be.”
There were foreshadowings of the country club as early as the late 18th century. Charleston established a golf clubhouse in 1795, and a decade later, Augusta and Savannah each had one, where members held balls and parties. These clubs, however, were the inventions of lonely Scotsmen yearning for the old game, and none of them survived long. The country club did not come into being until the post-Civil War boom when the United States was transitioning from a rural, agricultural nation to an urban and industrial powerhouse.