well-dressed gentlemen and two wee caddies above are making social history.
This picture, which was the first golf photograph taken in this country, shows
the players on a green at St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, N.Y. The year is
1888. St. Andrews was the first country club in the U.S. where golf was played,
and it was there that it became identified as an upper-class sport. Golf
subsequently brought about the rise of country clubs all over the land. In the
years since the men of St. Andrews set foot on their grubby links, country
clubs have become a socially important part of American life. Despite this
significance, the clubs have received little serious examination. The first of
two articles on country clubs, their history, manners and mores begins on the
Part I: Tuxedo
Park to Family Junction
One of the
distinctive hallmarks of our mobile, suburban society is the country club. The
country club is a uniquely American institution. In its 80 years of existence
it has undergone an evolution that amounts to a revolution. Originally a
patrician playground loosely modeled on the great English country house with
its leisurely weekend, the country club is becoming a year-round family fun
center that has more resemblance to the local bowling palace out on Route 1
than to any plutocratic pleasure dome.
There are 3,300
country clubs of all kinds in the U.S. The membership totals 1.7 million.
Approximately 3,000 of these clubs are the classic type, privately owned by the
members. Nationally, they take in about $250 million a year in dues and fees.
They sell $500 million worth of food and beverages. The average club has
between 400 and 600 members, gross annual dues of $100,000 to $150,000 and a
food and beverage sale of $150,000 to $250,000.
sociologists have largely ignored the country club. Only the novelists—Sinclair
Lewis, J. P. Marquand and John O'Hara—have examined it in detail. Perhaps
O'Hara, with his deadly social awareness, etched the sharpest picture of
"the country-club set" in Appointment in Samarra, published in 1934.
Brilliant as the novel was. O'Hara might have to change some things if he were
writing it today. Sex, for instance, seems to be on the way out at the club
(the growing family influence, you know), and gin rummy has supplanted bridge
as the club's most popular card game.
country clubs for a variety of reasons, most of them intertwined with one
another. The main reasons appear to be:
Golf. The game is
at an alltime popular high, but it is almost impossible to play on a public
course at one's convenience. There is now only one course for every 29,000
Americans, compared to one for every 21,000 in the early '30s. In the last
decade alone the number of women golfers has jumped 44%.
Club membership firmly places a member and his family in the local hierarchy.
It is tangible recognition of having "arrived." (In Chicago, Irish
Catholics advertised their arrival by brunching at the South Shore Country Club
after Sunday Mass.) "It's all prestige, the whole damn thing," says one
security. "We have become a nation of near-strangers through the impersonal
urbanization process," writes Charles F. Hathaway, a Los Angeles club
manager who studied more than 200 country clubs while doing graduate work at
Michigan State. "When we are with our own kind, such as in our club, the
threat of association with people greatly different from ourselves is greatly
lessened." (In Chicago leading gangsters sought one another's companionship
at the Mount Prospect Country Club. However, when the club ran into financial
difficulties a few years ago, local residents, who at the start had joked about
the Mafia Open, voted to buy it out.)
contacts. "Unless you belong to a country club, you're nobody in the eyes
of some of your business acquaintances," says a Louisville railroad man. A
Chicago executive says, "The club is really a kind of grease, like a
fraternity. It makes it easier for you to pick up business." From coast to
coast, business infiltrates the country club. A Boston advertising agency has a
low-70s golfer whose only job is to soften up prospective clients on the
course. A Seattle firm has hired "an Ivy League type" for the same
purpose. "We have to have a man who can play a good game of golf and has
all the social graces to bring in the business that's to be picked up around
clubs," says a partner. "Our man does a fine job at it. He's no great
shakes as a lawyer, but he doesn't have to be."