'Golf & the American Country Club'

By: Dr. John Wagner


On the back cover of this book is this statement: "Pairing a conversational tone with rock-solid scholarship, 'Golf and the American Country Club' offers a readable and even-handed treatment of a venerable and controversial American institution." I was surprised to learn that there has been controversy over country clubs. Maybe this book would edify me. It did not. Additionally, I did not find rock-solid scholarship by author Richard J. Moss.

After reading 20 pages, Moss totally convinced me to stop, but I had promised the editor I would finish it. What a chore. It reads like a textbook with no enthusiasm or interest, while containing lots of conjecture about clubs and social structure. In an effort to compare authors, I picked up "To Win and Die in Dixie" by Steve Eubanks. Within 10 pages, Eubanks hooked me. I wanted to continue reading until I finished his book. That's the difference between these writers: one grabs the reader and the other just writes.

The first third of "Golf and the American Country Club" is very repetitious and could have been done in one or two chapters. It deals with the origin of clubs; Moss made it sound as if this was unusual, when clubs of these types were happening all over the country; Lions and Kiwanis and others were growing and yet had specific rules about who could join. On page 59, Moss spends almost the whole page on the "virtues and vices of golf." I thought: What does this have to do with clubs in America and is his opinion necessary? He claims it is the one game you can play alone. Guess he never went bowling.

The first two-thirds of the book cover clubs in the Northeast part of the country and a few in the Chicago area. It leads a reader to believe that these were the only parts of the country where clubs and golf were connected, and that nothing was going on anywhere else in the nation despite the book's title. Just for Moss's edification: the Pacific Northwest Golf Association was founded in 1899 and is the fifth oldest golf association in the U.S.

The PNGA is still going strong and has a great history of courses and clubs. Many of its founding clubs started in the 1890s (elsewhere in the West, San Diego CC started in 1899), indicating that Moss did not do a lot of due diligence. He did do a nice job discussing Marion Hollins and the founding of Pasatiempo in California, but it took 140 pages to get there.

He talks about caddies in several areas yet never brings up the Evans Scholars Program and how it was started by Chicagoan Chick Evans. This is a wonderful story - which revolves around country clubs and the largesse of their members - that has been going on for 80 years and has helped many young people.

Moss also claims that people considered golf frivolous during World War II. Yet there are books that show how much good came from golf during the war by touring pros that went around the country staging exhibitions and raising millions of dollars for the war effort. Thousands of people came out to watch these pros, many of whom later volunteered for military service and lost their lives.

During the Depression many private clubs stayed open, sustaining jobs and paying wages. To this day, American country clubs have created thousands of jobs and boosted the economy. In the state of Washington, a recent economic study presented to the legislature contains facts which show golf revenues rank among in the top-10, outpacing the state's vaunted wheat industry.

While trying to finish this book - which was a chore - I occasionally picked up "To Win and Die in Dixie" and read a few pages. I've managed to get to page 67 and can tell you to buy this book. It's the story of James Douglas Edgar, who invented the modern golf swing and was revered by no less a figure than Bobby Jones. I do not know how it will end, but it sure is fun to read. That one is a winner, while the other, well . . .

"Golf & the American Country Club," by Richard J. Moss, University of Illinois Press, 232 pages, $19.95, ISBN 978-0-252-07413-4.

Dr. John Wagner has been a Seattle dentist for 37 years. He's been published in several dental journals as well as had several articles appear in the turf magazine for Pacific Northwest golf course superintendents. John served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington Business School for several years and as a guest lecturer for several dental societies. Dr. Wagner is the co-designer (with Steve Shea of the Berger Partnership) of a golf course in Japan that cost over $120 million and was built by Wadsworth Golf Construction. He's a Past President of the Washington State Golf Association and a Trustee of the Pacific Coast Golf Association. A 7 handicap, John is currently a member of the USGA Green Section and a Director of the WSGA.

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