A country club is a privately owned club, often with a membership quota and admittance by invitation or sponsorship, that generally offers both a variety of recreational sports and facilities for dining and entertaining. Typical athletic offerings are golf, tennis, and swimming. A country club is most commonly located in city outskirts or suburbs, and is distinguished from an urban athletic club by having substantial grounds for outdoor activities.
Country clubs originated in Scotland and first appeared in the US in the early 1880s. Country clubs had a profound effect on expanding suburbanization and are considered to be the precursor to gated community development.
Country clubs can be exclusive organizations. In small towns, membership in the country club is often not as exclusive or expensive as in larger cities where there is competition for a limited number of memberships. In addition to the fees, some clubs have additional requirements to join. For example, membership can be limited to those who reside in a particular housing community.
Country clubs were founded by upper-class elites between 1880 and 1930. By 1907, country clubs were claimed to be “the very essence of American upper-class.” The number of country clubs increased exponentially with industrialization, the rise in incomes, and suburbanization in the 1920s. During the 1920s, country clubs acted as community social centers. When people lost most of their income and net worth during the Great Depression, the number of country clubs decreased drastically for lack of membership funding.
Historically, many country clubs refused to admit members of minority racial groups as well those of specific faiths, such as Jews and Catholics. This was known as "freedom of association". In a 1990 landmark ruling at Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club, the PGA refused to hold tournaments at private clubs that practiced racial discrimination. This new regulation led to the admittance of blacks at private clubs. The incident at Shoal Creek is comparable to the 1966 NCAA Basketball Tournament, which led to the end of racial discrimination in college basketball.
Beginning in the 1960s civil rights lawsuits forced clubs to drop exclusionary policies, but de facto discrimination still occurs in cases until protest or legal remedies are brought to bear.
In the United Kingdom, most exclusive country clubs are simply golf clubs, and play a smaller role in their communities than American country clubs; gentlemen's clubs in Britain—many of which admit women while remaining socially exclusive—fill many roles of the United States' country clubs.
Country clubs exist in multiple forms, including athletic-based clubs and golf clubs. Examples are the Breakfast Point Country Club in Sydney, the Castle Hill Country Club, the Gold Coast Polo & Country Club, Elanora Country Club, and the Sanctuary Cove's Country Club.
- Private ski area (North America)
- Gentlemen's club, a men's social club
- Gymkhana, an Indian and South Asian equivalent
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- Jennifer Jolly-Ryan, “Chipping Away at Discrimination at the Country Club,” Pepperdine Law Review 25, no. 495 (1998): 2 http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/pepplr25&div=37&g_sent=1&collection=journals
- Jennifer Jolly-Ryan, “Chipping Away at Discrimination at the Country Club,” Pepperdine Law Review 25, no. 495 (1998): 496, http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/pepplr25&div=37&g_sent=1&collection=journals
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- "Castle Hill Country Club – One of Sydney's premier private golf clubs". Castle Hill Country Club.
- "Welcome to Elanora Country Club". Elanora Country Club.
- "Sanctuary Cove Golf & Country Club – Golf Courses – Gold Coast, Brisbane". Sanctuary Cove Golf & Country Club. 10 May 2015.
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