Jewish country clubs are country clubs whose members are predominantly Jewish, having been excluded from other elite social clubs during periods of rising anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, many major cities across the United States have at least one Jewish country club and, in cities with larger Jewish populations, often more than one, founded by wealthy Jews in that era.
Although Jews, along with other ethnic and religious minorities, continue to be excluded from some country clubs, informal policies excluding Jews began to wane starting in the 1960s. By the 1990s, and in the wake of the 1990 PGA Championship, even more clubs opened up their membership to Jews, African Americans, and others. With more options for wealthy Jews, many Jewish country clubs saw declining membership and failed; others lost their Jewish character and developed a more diverse membership base. Nevertheless, many Jewish country clubs retain their identity and still exist in major cities across the U.S; however, in the Philadelphia area, for example, all but one of the existing clubs no longer affiliate with the Jewish Federation, once seen as an important piece of their Jewish identity by raising funds for charity.
Many country clubs in the United States were established around the same time that immigration to the country, including of Jews, began to rise sharply. As anti-Semitism increased, Jews - even Jews who once had access to elite WASP social societies - were blackballed from joining clubs. By the early 20th century, most cities with meaningful Jewish populations had formed country clubs, and by 1928, there were 34 Jewish social and country clubs in the greater New York area, though many Jews still saw the inability to join non-Jewish social organizations as an impediment to assimilating and Americanizing.
Despite having been born of discrimination, Jewish country clubs often discriminated within the Jewish population. In the early years of the 20th century, membership at some clubs was restricted to German Jews, though as populations grew and intermarried, Russian and Polish Jews were also accepted.
According to a 1962 Anti-Defamation League survey of 803 country clubs, 224 were found to be non-discriminatory, while among the predominantly Christian clubs, 89 had quotas on the number of Jewish members and 416 admitted no Jews, though the Jewish Telegraphic Agency noted that social club discrimination was "in retreat" by the mid-1960s. Nevertheless, as of 2011[update] some country clubs still admit few or no Jews.
Although Jewish country clubs have predominantly Jewish memberships, the clubs themselves are not particularly Jewish in terms of custom or practice—clubs tend to be open on Shabbat and serve non-Kosher food. The names and architecture of clubs are not recognizably Jewish and often mimicked the convention of the other, predominantly Protestant country club from which Jews were excluded.[failed verification]
Starting in the 1960s, more Jews were accepted into predominantly Christian country clubs, though change often came slowly until the 1990 PGA Championship, which called attention to discrimination in clubs and social organizations across the United States. Clubs were forced either to admit more African American and Jewish members or to lose future PGA tournaments; some opted to integrate, while others retained restrictions on blacks and Jews. In 1990 Tom Watson famously resigned from the Kansas City Country Club over its refusal to admit billionaire H&R Block founder Henry Bloch.
That freedom to assimilate has hurt Jewish country clubs. Between intermarriage, more geographically dispersed Jewish populations, fewer golfers, and a decline in country club membership generally, many Jewish country clubs have either had to fold, merge, or lose their Jewish identity. In cities with multiple Jewish country clubs, there is increasing consolidation. Three of the six Jewish country clubs in Baltimore closed between 1985 and 2010, for example.
Many clubs remain vibrant, however, particularly in areas with large Jewish populations or where other Jewish clubs have folded or no longer have predominantly Jewish membership.
In addition to demographic changes, the Madoff investment scandal hit Jewish country clubs particularly hard. Bernie Madoff was an avid golfer in both New York and Florida, and many members of Jewish country clubs had invested heavily in his Ponzi scheme.
When Woodmont Country Club, a Jewish country club in the Washington, D.C. area, promised membership to President Barack Obama after the end of his presidency, some of its members objected because of his actions towards Israel. The club ultimately admitted him. Doug Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a Vice President, is a member at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.
List of historically Jewish country clubs
- Beechmont Country Club in Orange, Ohio
- Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles, California
- Broadmoore Country Club in Indianapolis, Indiana
- Brynwood Country Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Century Country Club in Purchase, New York
- Crestview Country Club in Agawam, Massachusetts
- El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, California
- Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor, New York
- Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale, New York
- Franklin Hills Country Club in Franklin, Michigan
- Glendale Country Club in Bellevue, Washington
- Green Gables Country Club in Denver, Colorado
- Green Oaks Country Club in Verona, Pennsylvania
- Harmonie Club in Manhattan, New York
- Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, California
- Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor, Illinois
- Inwood Country Club in Inwood, New York
- Irondequoit Country Club in Rochester, New York
- Jefferson Lakeside Country Club in Richmond, Virginia
- Kernwood Country Club in Salem, Massachusetts
- Knollwood Country Club in West Bloomfield, Michigan
- Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, California
- Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe, Illinois
- Losantiville Country Club in Cincinnati, Ohio
- Meadowbrook Country Club in Ballwin, Missouri
- Meadowbrook Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Moor Allerton in Leeds, England
- Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, New Jersey
- Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins, Minnesota
- Oakdale Golf & Country Club in Toronto, Ontario
- Oakwood Country Club in Cleveland Heights, Ohio
- Oakwood Country Club in Kansas City, Missouri
- Palm Beach Country Club in Palm Beach, Florida
- Philmont Country Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania
- Pine Tree Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama
- Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, New York
- Richmond Country Club in Richmond, British Columbia
- Ridgeway Country Club in Germantown, Tennessee
- The Standard Club in Johns Creek, Georgia
- Standard Club in Louisville, Kentucky
- The Suburban Club in Pikesville, Maryland
- Sunningdale Country Club in Scarsdale, New York
- Tualatin Country Club in Tualatin, Oregon
- Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield, Connecticut
- Twin Orchard Country Club in Long Grove, Illinois
- Westmoreland Country Club in Export, Pennsylvania
- Westwood Country Club in Buffalo, New York
- Westwood Country Club in Houston, Texas
- Westwood Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri
- Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, Maryland
- Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland
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- Roig-Franzia, Manuel (October 28, 2020). "Doug Emhoff paused his career for his wife Kamala Harris's aspirations — and became the campaign's 'secret weapon'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
An avid golfer with a handicap in the teens, according to friends, Emhoff joined Hillcrest, a historically Jewish country club formed when others rarely admitted Jews.
- "Who's who in American Jewry". 1926.