Richard Hyatt: Not the dream it once was

April 5, 2014 

When the Country Club of Columbus opened in 1909 on a hillside overlooking an unpaved trail that became Cherokee Avenue it was about real estate as much as golf and a neighborhood now known as Midtown prospered around it.

Building a private club on the grounds of his family's secluded ranch, businessman G. Gunby Jordan opened Green Island Hills Country Club in 1961, creating the anchor of a high-end residential development on the shores of the Chattahoochee River.

Now, after years of hand-to-hand combat, governing bodies of the two clubs are discussing a merger, and as it was in the beginning, the decision will come down to money.

Presidents of the two clubs have agreed to form exploratory committees to delve into the pros and cons of a partnership knowing that it won't be easy.

Both sides have debt issues and both continue to fight over a dwindling membership pool. To recruit new members, they have trimmed their initiation fees -- funds that have traditionally gone to maintenance and upkeep.

A merger would help deal with that problem but would start new ones created by years of a rivalry between the community's only private golf clubs.

The CCC and Green Island aren't alone. Clubs all over the country are dealing with these issues. Clubs have closed. Clubs have turned their golf courses into subdivisions. Clubs have relocated. Clubs have merged. They face social changes that are inescapable. As people reassess how they spend their leisure time and their disposable income, country club membership is not the dream it once was.

We also have our choice of golf courses. We have the River Club for fine dining and a growing number of good restaurants. Other activities rival golf, and family dynamics mean parents are at the soccer field or the Little League diamond.

Neither club is in danger of closing. The CCC newsletter reports 27 new members last month alone. But the realities of their industry force them to prepare for an uncertain future.

Talk of a merger is emotional. The Country Club of Columbus and Green Island are built on traditions and histories that do not always match. Such differences have squelched other club's discussions, even arguments over what to name the new facility.

But if history holds true, it will come down to finances, not pin placements.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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