Thursday, July 21

Pelham Country Club: Playing Well and Blooming

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

WE HEAR AND READ A LOT TODAY about country clubs failing and fading into history as millennials turn their backs on a game that takes them away from their smartphones.

This "decline" in golf has happened before.

The USGA statistics show a dramatic decline in membership during the 1930s. Over 1,100 clubs belonged to the organization at the beginning of the decade, but by 1936 the number had dropped to 763. At the same time, Business Week estimated that there were one million fewer members in 1936 than in 1925.

Again, during the war years, there was another decline. The New York Times reported that gas and rubber shortages had reduced play by approximately 50 percent. The Times would go onto write, "The unprecedented current situation [war-time measures] hits clubs after a decade of violent readjustments. Only a minority have recovered from the shock of the depression which began in 1929. Many a proud course .... is now a suburban housing development."

In the 1970s, there was a great growth in the game, especially linking private clubs to housing developments. The housing bust of 2008 forced new players to rethink the cost of membership. 

Another problem was the aging of members. When my wife and I first arrived in Westchester, the town's golf course, Pelham Country Club, was facing this familiar problem. 

Pelham Country Club solved it by creating junior memberships for Yuppie parents. They built new tennis courts and a family swimming pool that attracted mothers with toddlers to spend most of the summer days at the club, waiting at the pool when dad came home from work and ready to play a quick nine holes.

Pelham, however, was not safe from trouble. Recently, the theft of $335,000 by their controller resulted in a sizable insurance payment. I'm told the insurance money will be used to improve this legendary golf course.

Having weathered depression, wars and theft, the situation is still serious at Pelham Country Club. In the concluding part, I'll explain why.


John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the MastersLearn more at John Coyne Books.

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