Not a Former President? Then It’s Not That Easy to Join a Country Club

ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser at the White House with President Obama.

Former President Barack Obama is staying in Washington, probably until June 2019, while his daughter Sasha finishes high school. The Obamas rented a house just north of the White House and he’ll work on a book about his eight years as president. He will also play golf at Columbia Country Club, according to a Washingtonian magazine story:

Columbia’s board revealed the news in a letter to members on Thursday. “Following careful deliberation, the Board of Governors voted to extend an invitation for Honorary Membership to former President of the United States Barack Obama,” reads an excerpt shared with Washingtonian. “We have received official word from Mr. Obama of his acceptance of our invitation.”

The former president is no stranger to Columbia; he’s played there several times over the years with folks such as ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon, both of whom are members. But not all were thrilled when they received the news: “Horrible. They’ll lock up the course,” complained one member—referring to the inevitable Secret Service presence—in a conversation relayed to Washingtonian. (That member, the messenger quickly added, “is very much a Republican.”)

“I think most members will welcome him,” one member says. “Columbia, in a sense, is in competition with the Chevy Chase Club, which is just down Connecticut Avenue, and so I suppose there [are] some bragging rights.”

“The Board looks forward to the addition of Mr. Obama and his family to our wonderful and very special membership,” their letter to members concludes, “and encourage everyone to provide them with our traditional and time-honored ‘Warm Columbia Welcome.’”

As the story noted, former President Obama will be a honorary member of Columbia, which means he was invited to join by the club’s board of governors and will not have to go through the membership steps required of the usual applicant.

In June 1991, Andy Ferguson wrote a Washingtonian story about what it was like to try to join a country club: “Members Only: You Can Get Into a Top Country Club If You Have Time and Money and Can Play the Game. But Don’t Call.”

Here’s what happened when Andy called the Chevy Chase Club:

Andy: Hi. My name’s Andy Ferguson, and I was wondering who I might speak to about applying for a membership in the club.

Club: To the member who is sponsoring you.

Andy: Pardon?

Club: You may speak to the member who’s sponsoring you.

Andy: Well, I don’t have a sponsor as of yet.

Club: That’s the only person who can help you.

Andy: But I’m not certain, offhand, that I know of anyone who’s a member.

Club: That’s too bad. This is a private club.

Andy: Well, is there a membership list I might consult that could tell me who’s—

Club: No.

Andy: —a member, so I can see if anyone—

Club: No.

Andy: —I know belongs to the club?

Club: The answer is no. This is a private club.

Andy: That sort of puts me in a pickle.

Club: This is a private club. You may run into a member somewhere and get to know them, and they may sponsor you.

Andy: Oh.

Club: That’s the way it works. This is a private club.

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