“He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.”
–John Cheever, The Swimmer
It may well occur to Bill Clinton that–on a hot and lush summer afternoon–it is entirely conceivable that he might golf his way right across Westchester County. He could start at one end of the county and golf his way home. Wherever that is. And he could name this one long fairway “Hillary,” after his wife! How green “the Hillary Fairway”! There would be enough courses–from the Long Island Sound through Scarsdale, north on the banks of the Hudson River, then up through horse country to Bedford–so that he could golf the county.
Eisenhower golfed at Blind Brook, and so should he! They’re both Presidents! Blind Brook Golf Club is small and quiet, and on the veranda the tables were set: steak and lobster dinner tonight! The tables were small and round–and one could almost hear the conversation as it would flow that evening, sparkly and light but smart –through the row of thick white columns, where the shine of a single sprinkler waved back and forth. Gin and tonic, whisky and soda. Everything so clean, the floors gleaming, the course mowed and so empty. One thick, green velveteen swatch right through Purchase.
In the lobby sat one man, grinning beatifically beneath a portrait of Eisenhower, staring through the double doors to the course. So still . In the dining room, each club table sat in darkness, surrounded by four green, short, leather chairs, centered by a thick crystal ashtray. Chief executives, often retired ones, have met there: James Robinson III, from American Express; Rawleigh Warner Jr., from Mobil.
“I just don’t think he’d be happy here,” said the man in the lobby, nearly whispering. He had not stopped smiling, his eyes remained fixed beyond the open double doors. He continued to speak softly and his legs were crossed. “His background is fine , but only since Governor and President. I don’t think he’d be happy here.”
Behind the desk in the office a small woman with gray hair typed neatly and efficiently. The ringer on the phone was turned down, nearly inaudible. “Maybe he’d be happier at Winged Foot,” she said, clipping those last two words off, and gazing benevolently back at the paper at hand. “Or one of those places that costs $300,000 to join.”
And so out the gravel driveway and around to Mamaroneck, up Fenimore Road and up the curved drive toward Winged Foot: mock-Tudor and imposing and grand. Founded in the early 1920’s when the men–those athletic men!–from the New York Athletic Club wanted for fresher air than was found on 59th Street. Caddies in bibs, valets leaping into gleaming Mercedes sport utility vehicles. Leaning on their bags on a bare slate patio are groups of members, laughing and sweating and sipping.
“I just can’t stand him,” said a woman, brunette, slender. “I would be annoyed if he got in right away. I mean, he’s disgusting !”
Seventeen years to wait to play those two glorious courses, this glamorous club, host to Ben Hogan! The site of four U.S. Opens! The 1997 P.G.A. Championship! More than 800 (900 members; an acre a member almost!) well-watered acres on which George Washington once camped, on which James Fenimore Cooper was inspired! Over 20,000 ripe, ripe trees!
“There are good people trying to get into this club and they can’t. That ‘s what makes it a good club!” cackled a redhead, adjusting the big stone around her neck. “And there are a lot of celebrities here,” she tossed her blown-out locks, “It’s like overkill!” She laughed again.
But he’s William Jefferson Clinton ! He’s President !
“He’s no different,” said a gray-haired man with thick forearms. His big car has been delivered and was idling. “He puts his pants on the same way we all do. And there’s a lot of famous people here. He’d have to get on line like everybody else. You get in here, your stature in the world doesn’t mean anything. This is a men’s golf club, and it’s not about who you are or what you do, there’s a lot of people here who’re just as important as Bill Clinton!”–And this he said with such a sneer !–”We’ve earned our right to be at this place, and just because he’s President ? That means he’s allowed to waltz in and pass a 17-year waiting list? That’s not going to happen. Let him go somewhere where he can buy his way in.” He leaped into his waiting car, a waft of cold air burst out the door, his wife adjusted herself in the passenger seat.
But the valet! Bill Clinton’s is a world in which valets and caddies keep track of things. After all, those people, they vote .
“Look,” said the valet with a small upper lip and neat white teeth whose name is Johnny, who high-fives the members when they toss him their keys. “I’d be excited, sure. But I mean, we got Donald Trump here all the time. That guy over there? He’s on As the World Turns ! For like 14 years. Stallone was here a coupla times, but they didn’t want him. There’s a lot of big people here, powerful people. I wouldn’t say bigger than him, you know, he’s, like, President , but …” His voice raised, he shrugged his shoulders. A junior member needed his car. The junior member, Dave Stephenson, was fair, his sunburn was difficult, his belly and arms were soft in a purple shirt. He was a headhunter in Chicago, visiting his parents in Bronxville. He didn’t wait 17 years to join–when it was time, his Dad handled things. Surely he wouldn’t mind golfing with the Commander in Chief ! “I don’t particularly like him that much,” said Mr. Stephenson, 26, “I think he’s very sly.”
“You know,” said one of the ladies on reflection, “perhaps he could play at Westchester Country Club.” She grinned, nodded, and trotted off after a caddy. That ‘s a good idea.
On to Scarsdale: leafy Quaker Ridge Golf Club, all dappled sunlight and patios, laughter from an umbrella-shaded table, on big white dishes the remnants of egg salad sandwiches and turkey clubs. George Washington slept there, too. Under the “Quaker Ridge Oak,” just to the right of the 10th hole. “This is generating quite a lot of interest,” said a polite tall man in a white cap as he cleared his throat into his fist and ran to get the manager.
“You’ll have to go now,” said a man in an iridescent green suit with a small mustache. “This is a private club.” Private since 1914, when a man named John Duncan Dunn laid out the first nine holes. A.W. Tillinghast finished the job a few years later, to rave reviews, and now the Walker Cup, Anglo Amateurs, quietly play out their contest each August.
By the pro shop there was a massive golfer. “Look,” said the gelatinous fellow, the words deep in his throat, “we do have a full membership, and we don’t want it crowded. There’s only one course, so that’s the right number, two or three hundred members. It works. No more. I’ve got to go. Tee time.” He waved his massive arm.
Glenn Close riding her horses! Tina Brown might be chatting with the contractors, Lauren Hutton might be by the pool. He could golf his way toward Bedford, where Hillary might be having a fund-raiser with George Soros. Diane Straus Tucker might be taking a break from editing the year-old giddy, glossy Westchester Wag magazine, having a lemonade at the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club.
“It’s a very small club,” said Wendy Townsend, a member whose parents were members and whose children now are, too. “It’s very low key, it’s not a high-powered kind of place. We never have any celebrities here. I think he would do well in Donald Trump’s new course–the one that he’s building. That’s where I see him. I think there’d be a lot of political people and celebrities if he got out there with the Donald.”
Carll Tucker, the publisher of the local newspaper, the Patent Trader , wasn’t so sure, though. “There are lots of very nice members of the club and I understand that it is a beautiful golf course, and I think that if they had a somewhat more enlightened admissions policy the Clintons would enjoy themselves there, but with the current admissions policy, I don’t believe that the Clintons would want to be members.” But would they fit in? With Chelsea on break from college, she could be a junior member, their legacy. “I think anywhere the Clintons go is going to be somewhat complicated for the membership,” Mr. Tucker said.
In Rye, the Westchester Country Club loomed up like Manderly, massive, Tudor, tall and imposing. Jackie Robinson once teed off there. Two big courses and courts, manmade lakes and bridges and eddies, a playground behind a fence. A trio of women in shorts, their small puppies. Enormous, this club. “This would be too elitist for them, wouldn’t it?” said Ms. Tucker.
Then on to the Century: So what that he’s not Jewish, this club is brick and on a hill, a driveway lined in old and solid trees. “When I was growing up, we belonged to the Century,” said Ms. Tucker. “Look at the paddle courts, covered by trees. I mean, they really, they do everything well here.” A dance floor was covered in overstuffed sofas. There was splashing from a pool. A trim woman waited at the door. “This is a private club,” she hissed, then paged her manager. Would they take Bill Clinton? He knows Alan Greenspan, a member! And Larry Tisch! Maybe they would sponsor him! “We have no comment. This club is private,” said the manager, and retreated down a hallway.
But Old Oaks. A Tillinghast course on acres and acres that took the Jews that the Century wouldn’t, 360 members spread over its sprawling acres, a disconcertingly massive and imposing white clubhouse that looked more Brideshead than Purchase, it was originally a home. A fountain. Formal. Democrats . Never mind that outbreak of cyclospora (a rare diarrhea-inducing parasite found originally on a head of Nepalese lettuce) in the dining room a few years back.
“The Century!” said a man practicing his swing. “They don’t let anybody in!” A friend, at last!
But wait. “He would not bypass the wait list. No way,” said Karen Mindich–a nice lady–from under her visor. “New members who come to join cannot play for several years on the weekends,” she said, sucking on some crushed ice. “Politically, with everything that’s happened,” she rolled her eyes around in their sockets, “I don’t know how welcome he’d be”–she shows her bottom teeth–”but you do have to wait to join.”
“This is a predominantly Jewish club,” said a man with deep laugh lines, “and Jewish people, the expression goes, earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” The members of his foursome laughed and admonished. “Nobody would really want him to get in,” said the man. “He’s too young with too much sex appeal, so the men don’t want him, and the women don’t want him, each for a different reason.”
But there was Waccabuc, and Bonnie Briar. Shingled Apawamis with its shady awnings!
“Oh, the public courses are great in Westchester,” said Ms. Tucker. “I mean, you really don’t need to join a club and they certainly don’t need to join a club for their social life!”
The Saxon Woods Golf Course was the public course, part of a public park, where the swish of the club is not unlike the swish heard on trimmer courses. But the tables were stained with tomato juice, the men are covered in tattoos, the voices were louder, the accents harsher, the drink was beer nestled in foam coolers. The green is broken and sandy, flashes of light and noise from the parkway.
“See all these patches of green?” said Ralph Carbone, a man with a shiny nose chewing on a slice of pizza. “The conditions here are lousy, the sand and the dirt. He wants it pristine. He’s used to playing on very nice courses.” He chewed. “Especially when we’re at war !” He laughed, his mouth open, the cheese and crust and sauce vibrating his tongue. It was hot and sticky, and the smell of tar and asphalt floated in the air. There was almost no shade but for a few lopsided plastic umbrellas.
Louis Deltri, a lean man in a cowboy hat and reflective glasses shouted out, “Bill Clinton? Who’s that? If Bill Clinton came here, they would have to shut the course down, because nobody would play with him. Far as I’m concerned, he is the biggest liar to ever enter the White House. He’s a cheat. He ain’t worth the ground he walks on. This guy has no moral values!” His voice was scratchy, and the sun blared brighter.
“He can send his wallet, and Monica,” said a man with a bluish mash of tattoos on his arm and a cigarette in his mouth.
“Look, if he pays the rate, he’s entitled to play,” said Louis Mehler, a creased man with curly gray hair.
“Yeah, but if he disrupts the normal flow of play here, then of course we’re not going to stand for it! We’re not going to like it!”
Away from Saxon Woods! From its slatted windows and red squeeze bottles of ketchup! The Cherry Lawn driving range, right off of Weaver Street? It was hot there also, the parkway close and loud.
“He could attract terrorists!” said a man with a long mustache whose name was Mitch Manstream. He leaned over to correct his son’s stroke. “I did not vote for him. I want my vote to be important .”
“He’s an idiot!” said Charlie Horgan, pausing, his wire basket of white and yellow golf balls swinging. “Take him on a golf course, how many Mulligans does he take?”
There was no course there, you pay for your balls by the bucket. And there is no shade, no shade at all.