The country club, once a mainstay of American suburbia, faces a cloudy future, with a changing culture eroding its societal influence. Golf and tennis, the traditional club pastimes, have lost popularity. Declining marriage and fertility rates mean fewer families joining. Young professionals, many burdened with limited incomes and high debt, balk at paying dues. And a yearning for broader community makes the clubhouse’s exclusivity unappealing. The country club is increasingly a refuge for retirees—and, upon closure, a site for mixed-use development.
Country clubs once served as communal centers for social climbers. Dating to the 1880s, the clubs—modeled on the British aristocracy’s country houses—opened in the bucolic outskirts of industrial cities and towns. For a growing upper-middle-class, wealth permitted entry into this local society. Golf, dormant since the colonial era, became the favored sport for club members; in 1895 alone, more than 100 courses opened. Country clubs would help shape the development of streetcar suburbs, with stately homes lining manicured courses. By the Great Depression, nearly 4,500 country clubs existed across the country.