Mr. President, You’re Calling to Ask About Joining Our Club?

Tony Kornheiser could sponsor President Obama at one club.

Former President Barack Obama is staying in Washington, probably until June 2019, while his daughter Sasha finishes high school. The Obamas have rented a house 12 blocks north of the White House and he presumably will work on a book about his eight years as president. When not playing golf.

While in office Obama played 333 rounds of golf, many at Washington area courses, and the question is will he become a member of an area club. That possibility was in the news last week when Woodmont Country Club, where Obama has played, had a heated debate over whether the members would welcome him as a member. Most Woodmont members are Jewish and it became public that some didn’t want the former president as a member because of his Middle East policies while in office. The fight ended with the club saying it would welcome Obama but only after Washington Post stories about the possible snub.

So where should the former president play? There’s always the course at Andrews Air Force Base but Obama likely would want a club closer to DC with a more challenging course. He’s played several times at Columbia Country Club, a very nice course just north of DC, with member Tony Kornheiser, the ESPN talk show host. Congressional Country Club, with two 18-hole courses, one of them championship caliber, is a little farther away from where Obama is living but has many members with government connections. Burning Tree is a little farther out into the suburbs and has many prestigious members but is for men only.

For many years the Chevy Chase Club was Washington’s establishment country club. If you put religious labels on clubs, as with Woodmont, Chevy Chase was the Episcopal country club, prestigious but Waspy and a little stuffy. It does have a nice course and is the closest club to where the Obamas are living.

But how do you join a country club? Typically you need at least several current members—at some clubs as many as ten—to support your application. Once the application is in and gets a preliminary okay, you meet with the club’s leadership at a cocktail reception. Once that far, you’d have to get drunk and insult the club president to be rejected.

But there always is talk that at many clubs one prominent member can deep six your application. I knew one Columbia member who was blackballed by a member at Burning Tree because of a business deal between the two that went bad. And in years past some clubs discriminated against African-Americans and Jews. And women, too—Burning Tree loses a state open space tax break available to most Maryland clubs because it won’t take women as members.

So let’s say former President Obama decides the Chevy Chase Club is the most convenient club at which to play golf and calls to inquire about joining. Back in June 1991, the Washingtonian tried that. Andrew Ferguson, a staff writer, reported and wrote a piece titled “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.”

At Burning Tree, Andy got past the club employee who answers the phone but still didn’t get much help. After some of the same conversation, Andy said:

“It sounds like Catch-22, doesn’t it? I mean, I can’t apply unless I know a member, but I can’t find out who’s a member until I apply.”

Club: “Sir, what would happen is that if any two members feel they’ve come to know you, and think of you sufficiently to propose you for membership, then that will happen. But until such time…”

Andy: “…I’m out of luck.”

Club: “That’s correct.”

After many phone calls to area country clubs, Andy concluded:

“Groucho’s logic is correct. Why would I want to pay to belong to any facility that would accept me as a member?”


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