After taking some three dozen trips to the British Isles with my sticks through the years, I have concluded that less truly is more when it comes to golf. The austere links I have played from the northernmost reaches of Northern Ireland to the rugged Cornwall coast of southwest England have taught me the virtues of restraint, and so have their clubhouses. Most are modest retreats that offer shelter from the elements as well as working WCs and a place to change one’s shoes. They also serve up simple meals and offer wide ranges of whiskies, ales and stouts. Nothing more, and nothing less.
To be sure, there are those spots that go deeper as far as food and beverage are concerned, and feel rather deluxe. Like Prestwick and Hoylake. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, too. But there is reserve in their elegance as well as a sense of history that makes that aura understandable – and makes them so enjoyable to visit, the coats and ties one must don to enter some of them notwithstanding. Also, they are all about golf and people who are passionate about the game.
I am reminded of these things by a recent rash of clubhouse rebuilds across the country, in which modest structures have been razed and then replaced by sprawling event facilities with enough space and staff on call to handle the next royal wedding. And I wonder how we got to this point, especially when I consider how such operations usually hemorrhage red ink, especially when you throw in money-losing propositions like Christmas dances and Mother’s Day brunches. They also have a way of detracting from the thing around which they were organized originally. Which was golf.
Again, none of this is to say that I don’t appreciate a proper clubhouse. Like the stylish, salmon-pink structure at Seminole, which stands out as much for its look and design as it does for the fact that it is rarely open for dinner and has a swimming pool that was likely last used when Richard Nixon was president.
But more and more I am drawn to havens like the Kingsley Club in Northern Michigan, where the clubhouse that overlooks the brilliant Mike DeVries course there is nothing more than a dressed-up double-wide. But the porch built off the back of that building is a fine place to savor a pre-round cup of coffee and breakfast sandwich – and to relish an IPA or two when your game is done.
When it comes to clubhouses, who could ask for anything more?