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10 American Beauties

All golf clubs claim prestige, but these are the 10 american beauties. The clubhouses ooze tradition and the courses challenge anyone lucky enough to play them
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

Golf club membership is more than access to a private course, more than an ability to play the game at an accepted level, more than a hefty income statement. Golf club membership is an indicator of individual status and an entry into the inner sanctum of the privileged few. You have been accepted. You have been anointed. You have arrived.  

The vast majority of private clubs convey status at the local level, stamping a new member with the instant gratification of being a big fish in a small water hazard. The bigger the hazard, say major metropolitan area versus small rural city, the greater the prestige of membership. More people know that you belong--and they don't.  

But there exists in America a number of private clubs that are so stratospheric in prestige and prominence that their cachet exceeds any geographical or   political boundaries, their desirability exceeds any limitations. Their membership is a distillation of personality, personal achievement and playing ability drawn from around the country. Their courses are among the best and, in some cases, the most famous. Their clubhouse facilities are impeccable. They are the American Beauties.  

This package of prestige ultimately conveys to members an extraordinary status in the golf world--that of envied elite. To be sure, these golfing anointed didn't become members by calling the manager and asking for an application. They were invited, summoned to the altar, knighted even.  

So which are the best, most desirable, most drop-dead American Beauties? Which clubs have that magical mix, that aching allure?  

These are my choices, my Top 10, made for Cigar Aficionado. The choices reflect more than 20 years of intimate involvement in the game as a professional golf writer, one privileged enough to play the best courses, dine in the best clubhouses, socialize with the members who have reached the top of the pyramid.  

In appraising these clubs, it is not enough to simply evaluatethe golf course. Naturally, the courses must be top-notch, and more often than not they've been laid out by some of history's best designers. Some host major golf tournaments. But the whole package must be considered. What is the overall ambience of the club? How does it feel to walk through the front door, to walk into the locker room, to take a seat at the bar, to talk to a member? And who are those members? The atmosphere must be thick with history and understated elegance. There must be a sense of devotion to the game, a devotion to maintaining its standards of fair play and etiquette. So now on to the choices, in order, of the Top 10 golf clubs in America. Bagpipes, if you please.    

NO. 1 SEMINOLE GOLF CLUB, JUPITER, FLORIDA  

Seminole Golf Club may be the purest expression of the game in America. Its course, by legendary Scottish designer Donald Ross, is delightfully old-fashioned, with a wonderful set of greens and a perfect setting against the Atlantic Ocean. Its clubhouse is traditional Florida-Spanish. The air seems left over from a different era. Its men's locker room is without question the finest in the game, its walls lined with dark, old wooden lockers and pictures and placards that depict the history of the game in America. The names that surround you are Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Seminole became Hogan's winter digs and he proclaimed the sixth hole as the most perfect par 4 in the United States. His locker was No. 50.  

The members at Seminole have one thing in common--a palpable love of the game. Former United States Golf Association presidents Jim Hand, Stuart Bloch, Bill Campbell and Buzz Taylor are members. So, too, are prominent amateurs like Buddy Marucci, Vinny Giles, Dick Siderowf and Spider Miller. Some of America's most active corporate players--IBM chief Louis Gerstner and General Electric CEO Jack Welch--are also members. But as one insider puts it, "If you are the chairman of IBM, you will get into Augusta National. You might get into Seminole."  


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