Asking “Are There Too Many Private Golf Courses in New England?” is like asking if there are too many good restaurants, too many different kinds of beer and too many days off from work. But that is the argument that Mr. Private Club Gorman and I are having for our final issue of NEGM for 2015.
Ironically it is Tom the Elitist who believes that there are too many privates in our six-state region. Gorman usually holds his nose whenever he is forced to step onto the first tee of a public or municipal golf course. Rubbing elbows with the great unwashed is something he loathes, at least when it comes to his golf.
Tom belongs to a couple of private clubs and I’m sure he would be aghast if anyone ever suggested that his swanky digs be converted into a housing for the elderly. But he is maintaining that we New Englanders have too much of an abundance of privates and I’m sure he’s throwing all kinds of faulty statistics at you on the adjoining page.
Truth be told, there are probably more private clubs in New England than any other area of the country, but you could also include the entire northeast in that geographic area. It only makes sense since our section of the good ole USA has been around longer than other parts of our nation. Does that make New England more snooty than the rest of the country? Well… yeah, it probably does. We invented the Brahmin class. It was Plymouth, not Tampa Bay, where the Mayflower first set anchor. And as golf became popular among the well-to-do class it was only natural that those with a great deal of wherewithal should want to build clubs where they could mingle with only each other and not with those of the chimney sweep set.
Those of Gorman’s ilk like to be able to get away from peons such as myself and probably you. Why he would argue that we have too many of these such establishments might seem strange, until you understand that Tommy Silver Spoon only wants other people’s private clubs to be bulldozed, thus making those clubs he either belongs to, or frequents as a guest, to be even more prestigious. In a past issue we discussed the reason for the decline in the privates and its as American and as the free enterprise system, namely survival of the fittest.
There are only as many private clubs as there are those willing to support them. When the membership at a private club declines to the point where it is no longer financially viable, it does what any American business does. It closes. Either that or it declares bankruptcy and then attempts to re-organize. In Rhode Island, where I live, we have 52 courses that are members of the Rhode Island Golf Association. Of that number 25 are fully private and two (Montaup in Portsmouth and West Warwick) are considered semi-private.
That’s almost a 50-50 divide between public and private courses. Yes, we have some private clubs, that in recent years have struggled, that have lost members and that have had to do some serious shuffling. But none have closed, despite the economy being sluggish. That seems to be consistent with the rest of New England. There are some hardships, for the most, part the private clubs have kept their doors open and their greens hard and fast.
Tim Geary is a R.I. based freelance writer. He belongs to a muni and is proud of it.