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The Clubhouse Reimagined

Courtesy of Arch Photo Clubhouse ReImagined

Photo: Courtesy of Arch Photo

In golf’s roughly 120-year history in the United States, the clubhouse has always taken a back seat to the course. "Pick up any golf magazine and look at the way the clubhouse is portrayed," noted McKinney. "It’s always in the background. There will be a shot down the fairway, there will be the people or trees, and the clubhouse is in the background, in a supporting role. And whenever it gets to be a little too much into itself, it just doesn’t seem to fit very well."

Yet here’s a quote from the website of another new private club, also in the New York City area: "Liberty National’s clubhouse is the jewel in the crown of the entire Liberty National development." Like the clubhouse at the Bridge, the one at Liberty National will be mostly glass. It will rise three stories tall and have a dramatic curving roofline. And like the clubhouse at the Bridge, it will be very, very different from any structure ever seen on a golf course in America.

There has been some progressive clubhouse architecture in Europe and Asia (see page 96), but here at home, clubhouses have been predictable or, as Ferris said, "noneventful." Shinnecock and a handful of other iconic buildings—the stone-wall, slate-roof mansion at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York; the sprawling primrose-yellow Colonial at The Country Club in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; the English Tudor at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey—all share one quality: They are grand houses in the common style of their respective regions, essentially supersize versions of members’ homes. Architecturally speaking, to get from Stanford White’s clubhouse at Shinnecock to those at the Bridge and Liberty National is not easy. There is no line to trace, not even a dotted one. As American architecture went through its twentieth-century phases—modernism, postmodernism, new pluralism—you wouldn’t have known it if you spent all your time on a golf course.

"The clubhouse hasn’t ever really been considered a true site for architecture; there has been no attention paid," said Ferris. His own eclectic oeuvre runs from the Dreamworks SKG studio in Playa Vista, California, to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis to the wood-and-concrete, cubist-looking residential "Lake House" in Weston, Connecticut, but his only previous clubhouse was the traditional one he designed in 1990 for Aspetuck Valley Country Club in Connecticut (though he is an avid golfer, with memberships at three clubs, including the Bridge). "For some reason, they have to be buildings that are homelike. It has to do with the conservatism of the institution of golf in America."

For sure, some nontraditional clubhouses have been built—or almost built, as was the case in 1924, when members of the Nakoma Golf Club in Madison, Wisconsin, refused to cough up $70,000 to build a clubhouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (The teepee-inspired design finally was built in 2001 at the Nakoma Golf Resort in Clio, California.) One of the reasons there isn’t contemporary architecture on golf courses, according to McKinney, is, in fact, cost—not just to design and construct but also to maintain. Wright’s buildings, for instance, were known to leak on occasion; it’s what happens when you create something, using new materials, that’s never been done before. In Porter, Texas, a serpentine, zero-detail glass clubhouse was constructed for Bentwood Country Club in 1994 and quickly began deteriorating: leaks around the windows, doors jammed shut, a roof that never was watertight. "Most of the money the membership could generate was put into the golf course—turf conditions, sprinkler systems and so forth—because that is, after all, the point of the place," McKinney explained. The building has since been torn down and replaced with a more traditional structure (the club reopened in 2003 under the name Oakhurst Golf Club).

At Huntsville Golf Club in Shavertown, Pennsylvania, outside Wilkes-Barre, members have mixed feelings about their long, low, rectangular clubhouse, which opened in 1995 and was designed by the firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. "From the perspective of the members, it’s somewhat unattractive when you first drive up," acknowledged general manager Scott Schukraft. "But once inside, it’s quite attractive, with its red-cedar timber and teak window wall." Also of note is the clubhouse at Blessings Golf Course in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The structure there, designed by Marlon Blackwell and opened in 2005, features a big, low roof. But it is thick and heavy in appearance, not nearly as radical as, say, the Bridge. And in England, the historic Royal Birkdale Golf Club erected a white, flat-roof Jetsonian clubhouse in the thirties that members today have plenty of derogatory names for but not enough money to replace.

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