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By Alicia Nemiccolo MacLeay '97
Professor of History Richard J. Moss once heard a historian list the things we know nothing about. The American country club was number five. "It seemed very odd that there were thousands of clubs and no one had ever written about them," said Moss, a golfer, country club member and former caddie. In Golf and the American Country Club Moss sets out to discover how country clubs and the game of golf took root in America.
Although the earliest country clubs were devoted to horse-related activities, by the mid-1890s the relatively inexpensive sport of golf was the dominant force behind the creation of new clubs. Initially clubs were informal groups of friends playing golf in pastures and orchards. From 1890 to World War I, though, upper- and middle-class Americans increasingly adopted golf, and country clubs became draped in "instant" history and prestige. Discretionary time and income increased in the 1920s, and many people adopted new values that justified leisure and pleasure. This "golden age" saw the growth and improvement of courses and expansion of the country club's role and facilities.
Moss was amazed by the rapid rise of clubs through 1930 and their decline from 1930 to 2000. "In the 1920s it looked like the country was going to be covered with clubs," said Moss. "People once really liked the idea of using private voluntary associations to get things done. Now they rely on the government and corporations to provide things like golf and social life."
Golf and the American Country Club covers a range of history and topics: from the introduction of the term "golf widow" in the 1890s and television coverage in the 1950s to social class issues, discrimination against women and minorities, the caddie's role and the introduction of the golf cart. ("The golf cart is an abomination," writes Moss.)
Moss's commentary also touches on the professionals responsible for golf's changing character--Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, who resigned from his club in 1990 because of discrimination, and, of course, Tiger Woods.
While current country clubs are at oddly different junctures--some have immense prestige while the institution is clearly in decline--golf gets bigger everyday. The sport and its code of principles have a place in modern American society, Moss concludes. "That this code became entangled with exclusive, aristocratic practices and principles is a great tragedy," he writes. "But that should not give us reason to condemn the game and those clubs that truly support its values."
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President's Page: President Bro Adams on the court and affirmative action.
Alumni Reunion 2001
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College Colby Magazine 4181
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