Peter Davidson, a member of Inwood Country Club since 1956, vividly remembers realizing just how unusual his Long Island club really was. The moment of clarity took place nearly two decades ago, and it explained much about how his historically Jewish club operated.
“I was invited to play at a member-guest at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh,” Davidson says. “Along with our host were members from the Olympic Club in San Francisco and Medinah in Chicago.
Oakmont, Olympic, and Medina all have hosted major championships in recent years, so they are very famous in the golf world.
The conversation turned to annual fees. I forget the exact numbers, but it was something like $5,000 for Olympic and about $5,500 for Medinah. Our host from Oakmont said that his dues were right in the middle.”
Inquiring minds naturally turned to Davidson.
“I said, ‘We’re about where all of you are – combined.” Back then, Inwood charged a princely sum of $18,000. [Around 1990]
Later on, Klein explains the reasons for this price differential.
In its heyday, Inwood didn’t have to worry about holding down costs or attracting new members. Having an acclaimed golf course – good enough to host the 1921 PGA Championship and the 1923 U.S. Open, where Bobby Jones won his first national championship – served as a magnet for the affluent who lived in the distinct Five Towns community on Long Island’s south shore. ....
Another unexpected blow comes from the investment scandal involving Bernie Madoff. An avid golfer based on Long Island and in Palm Beach County, Fla., Madoff apparently drew heavily upon the close social circles of the Jewish community. His ill-doing led to financial hardship and membership resignation among hundreds of people, resulting in some Jewish clubs losing dozens of members over the past winter.
Long before Madoff, however, the demise of Jewish clubs was evident.
As the hush-hush exclusivity of American country clubs gave way to a wide-open market in which anyone is welcome, Jews gained the freedom to assimilate. The shrinking pool of candidates for all-Jewish clubs, in turn, forced such facilities to seek a secular, more diverse membership. ...
Jewish clubs surfaced in the early 1900s when overt discrimination was the norm. If your ethnicity or religious identity didn’t conform to the prevailing blue-blood ethos of the ruling “Social Register” crowd, you were out of luck. Or you formed your own golf club.
That’s exactly how Inwood emerged in the southwest corner of Nassau County, just beyond the limits of New York City, where the runways of JFK Airport now abut the tidal salt marshes of Long Island’s Jamaica Bay. ...
Inwood is now directly under the final descent flight path of JFK, making it a relaxing experience for deaf members. They had Tom Doak revamp their seafront holes to look more Early 20th Century.
For Jewish clubs, golf served as just one of many reasons for seeking membership. The club became a center for Jewish life, providing privacy so an extended family of sorts could celebrate holidays and dining, and pursue community service or charity work.
That kindred behavior often has led to distinct differences between Jewish clubs and other private facilities. Jewish clubs keep outside corporate outings to a minimum. They offer full-service meals all the time, not just on weekends. They usually keep a bigger staff, which typically translates into better service but higher costs for labor and benefits.
One interesting cultural aside, according to McMahon: Jewish clubs consume less alcohol, lowering revenues from one of the most profitable components of any private-club operation.
Later on, I'll get to some of the more puzzling aspects.