Country clubs likely to be a thing of the past if they don’t keep up with the times

by Chandler Fattah
Posted 8/20/20

The world is constantly evolving, adopting new traditions and parting with ideas that no longer appeal to the majority of the public. The impetus for social change is typically a new generation coming of age.

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Country clubs likely to be a thing of the past if they don’t keep up with the times


The world is constantly evolving, adopting new traditions and parting with ideas that no longer appeal to the majority of the public. The impetus for social change is typically a new generation coming of age. Interests shift, and the pastimes and opinions of our grandparents aren’t shared by us. Country clubs, which were once the height of class and elegance, are struggling.

The political and social issues that face everyone in the country each day have no doubt shaped the ethos of younger Americans. We are moving further away from a desire for immense wealth, exclusive communities and age-old bigotries. We are progressing into a future that emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion. It is a future that I predict will be devoid of country clubs.

Country clubs were first introduced to the upper echelons of American society in the late 1800s by way of Scotland. Chestnut Hill’s own Philadelphia Cricket Club boasts the title of oldest country club in the United States. Although these institutions have long been an aspiration for some, and a birthright for others, they are slowly growing out of style.

Nationally, country clubs are floundering. In 2014, the National Club Association conducted a study that found club memberships had dropped 20% since 1990. This can be attributed to a dwindling interest in golf, as well as heightened racial and social sensitivities.

Another factor contributing to the decline of country clubs is the decline of golf.

Country clubs were built around the sport of golf. The number of golfers in the United States has steadily decreased in recent years. A study done by the Pellucid Corp. found that from 2002 to 2016, the number of golfers in the country declined by nearly 10 million. More than 400 golf courses were forced to close between 2017 and 2019, and even more closures are expected in the years to come. Golf is an expensive sport, and many aren’t willing to pay the exorbitant costs the sport requires.

Another reason golf is dying is because its main demographic is getting older. Golf is traditionally the sport of older people, especially older men. The average age of golfers in the country is 54, and millennials don’t seem eager to carry on the tradition. This is bad news for country clubs; it’s hard to get people to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a sport they don’t play.

There are even more troubles on the horizon for clubs: America is starting to pay more attention to issues of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Country clubs have a history practiced discrimination. For most of their existence, the coveted membership was available only to wealthy white males.

Clubs have improved in this aspect, but they have not strived for diversity as diligently as some might hope. The Los Angeles Country Club banned Jewish people from joining until 1977, and the Augusta National Golf Club only began accepting Black members in 1990. Women would have to wait until 2012 to be admitted to the exclusive club.

Closer to home, the Philadelphia Cricket Club is finding ways to adapt to the changing times. Founded in 1854, the Cricket Club has been a mainstay in Philadelphia society. After suffering a financial blow caused by the 2008 recession, the club has evolved and found ways to stay afloat. With the help of the club’s CFO, Linda Cozzi, the Cricket Club has seen its highest membership numbers since the club’s inception.

Many clubs are attempting to reinvent themselves as the Cricket Club has. They are shifting the focus away from golf and highlighting the family-friendly activities and luxurious amenities the club has to offer. Places like the Columbus Country Club and the Charlotte Country Club are shelling out millions of dollars in order to appeal to families and younger people. One of the main changes club members might have noticed in recent years is a loosening of dress code rules. In the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s case, they revitalized by simplifying the entry process, improving their pool and squash courts to attract families and lowering their prices.

Despite its financial success, the Cricket Club has been scrutinized for its logo, a stereotypical depiction of a Native American man.

A teen member of the cricket club I spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed discomfort with this depiction.

 “They said they were finally going to be changing the mascot, but I’m pretty disappointed it took them this long to agree to change it.”

The member I spoke to is concerned by the bigoted history of clubs.

“Whatever happened in the past impacts how the club functions today,” the member said.  They also agreed that country clubs are losing relevance. “I feel like a lot of people in Gen Z don’t have the same love for country clubs that the older generations do. A lot of what comes with country clubs is the feeling of joining something that is prestigious and elite. I think a lot of people in our generation aren’t looking for that.”

Bigotry has permeated American society since 1776, but clubs still seem stuck in the past, clinging to the vestiges of a period few wish to return to. Of course, there are clubs working to catch up with the times, but many are not. Unless they begin to modernize to attract younger people, I doubt they will ever regain their former glory.

Chandler Fattah is a rising junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. She is working this summer as an intern at the Local.