No, no, a thousand (actually several $1,000.) times no. Contrary to what Mr. Private Club (actually he belongs to two) is arguing, we are not witnessing the dawn of the collapse of private country and golf clubs in these United States.
It would be inaccurate, however, to say that everything is hunky dory in the world of the blue blooded clubs, where nary can be found a blade of grass that is not emerald green (this does not apply to Newport Country Club, which prides itself on being a true links course). As I argued in a recent (and winning) debate, the economy is affecting all aspects of American life and private clubs are no exception. In fact it would be erroneous (Gorman is now scurrying to find the dictionary that is currently being used to prop up one of the uneven legs of his dusty desk) to suggest that the privates are just sailing along through this nuclear recession without having suffered some radiation poisoning.
Memberships are down all over the place and play at the public and municipal courses seem to be up. But the privates are not going to be turned into real estate developments anytime soon, although that’s what Al Cervic (Rodney Dangerfield’s classic character from “Caddy Shack”) was suggesting when he called golf course and cemeteries the biggest wastes of real estate known to man. No, the privates are all still here and they aren’t going anywhere soon. As long as there are people who are able and willing to purchase Porsches, Audis, Mercedes and the like, the siren song of private golf clubs will resonate.
As far as I can discern (that sound you heard was Gorman going back for the dictionary) no private club in New England has filed for Chapter 7 or 11 or has declared itself open to the public. In Rhode Island the Crystal Lake Golf Club in Burrillville was built in the 1990s with the promise of being a private but to this day remains a public venue. Other than that those clubs that have been privates remain so. The difference is that memberships have gone down at most and recruiting drives have been held. Initiation fees have been waived, dues have been slashed and assessments are not as numerous as they once were. That’s making an adjustment. It’s not walking the last mile. Because I live in Rhode Island I will use the Ocean State as my base of supportive evidence. There are currently 46 clubs and courses listed as members of the Rhode Island Golf Association (I do not include those RIGA member clubs that are in nearby Massachusetts).
Exactly half of those are private clubs. They have all been around for many years and none of them have made ANY noise about changing their charters or becoming grounds for the next WalMart. While it is true that membership is down at many of them, they are not even close to insolvency. I have visited several already this year and they all have indicated that they have weathered the worst of this storm. I therefore assume that those in the other five New England states have done likewise.
For a long time private clubs have not been called upon to make adjustments. There were plenty of people around, with enough discretionary cash, to keep everything moving as it had in the past, which pretty much was to keep society’s riff raff outside the gates. Many of those clubs are still here, but the olde guard has either died or been replaced by the more politically-correct crowd. There are still some clubs left that exclude people based on religion, race or gender, but they are becoming rarer by the year.
I have yet to hear or read of a private club either going under or becoming public. Mr. Gorman tends to be a little hysterical when it comes to a possible threat to his plush golfing life, but he need not worry. What he does need to worry about are the two private clubs of which he is a member coming to their senses. And I shall close by paraphrasing a question once posed by Grucho Marx; why would Gorman ever belong to a club that would accept him as a member?
(Tim Geary is a R.I. based freelance writer, who admitsthat he is a golfing mongrel)WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?