From its origins at the end of the 19th century as a converted farmhouse to its maturity as
a fully developed building type, the country club has been most popular in British and
North American locations suitable to the wealthy classes and to the requirements of
outdoor sport. Farmhouses originally met these requirements and were less expensive to
convert and augment than building new structures. At the same time, some members
undoubtedly preferred the ambience of a farmhouse over a new building. While the
farmhouse has continued to serve as a model for clubhouse design, club leaders have
increasingly opted to construct new buildings rather than convert old ones.
When converting a farmhouse into a clubhouse, designers were forced to develop a
site plan that centered on the farmhouse’s location. However, on an undeveloped site the
clubhouse location was determined not only by its proximity to a road but also by how to
develop the best golf course. Using the high ground was a key criterion for engineering a
club’s grounds. The clubhouse had to be on high ground to accommodate sewer and
water needs. The high ground also had to be sufficiently large in area to handle tennis
courts, parking, and auxiliary buildings kept near the clubhouse. Once basic service needs
were met, aesthetics dominated the choice of clubhouse location. The architect located
the clubhouse and designed a landscape to create aesthetic vistas—from the building to
the golf course and vice versa. Because members often wanted the clubhouse to be the
focal point atop a hill, problems of shading and wind were handled through landscaping.
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 608
Whereas physical constraints played a role in clubhouse location, aesthetics was the
primary means to convey a prestigious setting.
Although golf was the major outdoor sport at a time when equestrian sports were in
decline, the popularity of tennis led to the building of new and additional tennis courts
that were typically near the clubhouse. In moderate climates a totally new addition was
the swimming pool. The Wichita, Kansas (1913), Peninsula, California (1914), and San
Antonio, Texas (1917), country clubs provided swimming pools with their new
clubhouses. Some clubs, such as Wichita and Ridgewood, New Jersey, provided dance
pavilions for outdoor dances, but most clubs held dances indoors and used verandas and
porticoes as an outer room for fresh air. Although architects introduced some new design
features, automobile sheds, parking lots, and tennis courts were the primary additions that
changed the clubhouse’s outdoor setting.
In the period 1900–20, architectural styling became more important and reflected the
values and lifestyles of the club’s members. Progressing increasingly from remodeled
farmhouses to architect-designed clubhouses, the country club changed in its scale,
setting, and appearance. Some of the oldest institutions, such as the Country Club in
Brookline, remained in converted farmhouses. The prestigious Piping Rock Country Club
of St. Louis, Missouri, built a new two-story clubhouse that was visually modest with
wood-slat siding. In contrast the Bellereive Country Club of St. Louis built a three-story
Georgian brick structure with a clerestory and dome on its roof as well as a large twostory
portico. Clubs with wealthy members could afford grand clubhouses built with
expensive materials and in a style that conveyed a stately appearance.
Architectural styling for country clubs during the early 20th century was diverse. The
Brae Burn and Vesper country clubs in Massachusetts, the Country Club of Virginia in
Richmond, and the Chevy Chase in Washington, D.C., were all designed in a tradition
characteristic of the region. In the Midwest country clubs were designed in a variety of
styles, including Classical Revival, Colonial, Tudor, and Shingle. Midwestern architects
trained in the East undoubtedly imported traditional designs from the East Coast. Some
country clubs in the Southwest and California decided to build clubhouses in the Mission
style, which was indigenous to the region. The San Antonio (1917) and the Santa Barbara
(1918) country clubs both adopted the style, which recognized the region’s ethnic
Although the country club was a new American building type, many clubhouse
functions duplicated what earlier city clubs provided. Beyond the obvious needs, such as
a kitchen, plans for many country clubs included a ballroom and stage, bedrooms for
members, and game rooms. Bedrooms continued to be important because of
transportation limitations. At the Houston Country Club, bachelors rented upstairs
bedrooms, as they had done historically in men’s city clubs. Elites still preferred to have
the clubhouse as a place for guests to spend the night. Although the club setting had
changed, many habits of club life remained the same.
In the 1920s there was an increasing demand for architects who were knowledgeable
about clubhouse design. In this prosperous decade, most new clubs could afford a new
clubhouse, especially when club organizers and a real estate developer worked together
to relate the country club’s development to an adjoining elite housing subdivision. Early
country clubs benefited from the initial economy of converting a farmhouse into a
Entries A–F 609
clubhouse. However, with a growing, active membership, a club had to either renovate
the clubhouse or build a new one.
Architects increasingly suggested that the clubhouse’s best location was just below a
hilltop, a location that allowed for air ventilation without the building experiencing
extreme wind velocities. Moreover, locating a clubhouse below the hilltop offered the
possibility of some shading and a scenic backdrop to golfers approaching the clubhouse.
Minimizing the clubhouse’s distance from a main road reduced on-site road construction,
and locating the entrance road on the high ground reduced grading costs and erosion
problems. For the golf course, design ers reiterated the need for the nine-hole loop plan,
the 1st and 10th tees as well as the 9th and 18th greens being near the clubhouse.
However, they acknowledged the difficulties of maintaining this principle when a club
decided on developing a 36-hole course and wanted other sports activities around the
clubhouse. Designers needed to avoid steep grades, especially at the end of a round, to
prevent golfers from becoming overfatigued. Providing or keeping trees allowed for
windbreaks along fairways, scenic backdrops for greens, visual barriers between parallel
holes, and visual walls to hide ugly surroundings. Landscape design was critical for
creating a sense of entrance to the club’s grounds and to integrate the clubhouse with
surrounding sports facilities and the golf course. The general goal was to blend efficiency
with the picturesque.
Architects developed basic clubhouse plan types. First, the most illustrated type was
the finger plan. Basic functions, such as the lounge and dining rooms, were in a central
building, and building wings typically housed locker rooms, guest bedrooms, and
sometimes an indoor swimming pool. This plan type worked best for large clubs that had
multiple functions. With a large building complex, the building wings enabled the
architect to orient the floor plan to existing land contours and provide a V or U stage set
that looked on the golf course. Second, the corridor plan type connected the major club
functions along a single corridor. This type was most adaptable in small country clubs,
where an architect could easily organize a small number of functions along a corridor
spine that was not excessively long. Another alternative for the small country club was
the great hall plan. The club’s main dining room or lounge served as a central space with
the club’s other functions surrounding it. In a large country club, an architect had
difficulty placing all the club’s functions around the great hall. Finally, there was the
courtyard plan. The courtyard served as a pivotal open space around which architects
organized a club’s functions, but, as in the great hall plan, all a club’s activities could not
always be efficiently arranged around a central space. However, these four plan
alternatives were ideal types, and architects with commissions for large country clubs
designed a variety of hybrids, enabling them to incorporate some types best suited for
small country clubs.
Architects emphasized interior design and decor more than they had in the past by
focusing on the need for the clubhouse’s interior to convey a feeling of family, dignity,
and comfort. They paid special attention to the fireplace’s design and placement in the
main room because it was the symbolic center of club social life. The recommended
dining room, lounge, and great hall height was at least a story and a half to give dignity
and importance to the club’s main social spaces. The staircase design was important not
only as a social place centrally located to club activities but also as an integral feature for
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 610
particular traditional building styles that conveyed the visual dignity that club members
In the 1920s perhaps the main design anomaly in relation to the country
club ideal was the men’s grillroom. Although the country club was
promoted as a family club, men dominated its membership rosters and
club definitions of social terrain. Men particularly enjoyed the grill as a
place to eat and drink after a round of golf, where their dress and language
could be informal. The grillroom had its historic roots in city social clubs
that were exclusively for men, and it was continuing that traditional
exclusivity in the country club.
In the United States architectural styling in country clubs continued to repeat past
practices and regional styles, with some minor variations. The clubs in Florida and
California almost universally adopted Spanish or Italian styles of architecture, whereas
those in New England were influenced by American Colonial, English, Georgian, and
French farmhouse design. Spanish Colonial became a popular style in Florida during its
real estate boom in the 1920s. In the Southwest architects used the Pueblo style, as seen
at the Trinidad Country Club of Trinidad, Colorado. Modernism, however, was largely
missing. In 1924 Frank Lloyd Wright produced schematic drawings for the Nakoma
Country Club of Madison, Wisconsin, but a new, conservative board of governors
rejected his innovative design proposal. Thus, by the 1920s architects had incorporated
all the major styles used for other building types in the United States into clubhouse
In the early postwar era, modernism became the dominant style. By the 1950s
progressive architects had rejected the classical styles for modernism, and this shift is
seen in country club designs of the time. Glass, steel, and concrete were the basic
materials used to express this modernist style. In the 1940s Chicago’s Tam O’Shanter
Club and the Des Moines, Iowa, Golf and Country Club built two of the first clubhouses
that exemplified the International Style. Organic architecture reflected the influence of
Wright, who designed buildings to fit into the site rather than to dominate it. His
architecture emphasized indigenous building materials, and in the 1950s some architects
were highly influenced by his buildings that used asymmetrical plans and triangular
forms. Completed in 1958, the Paradise Valley Country Club of Scottsdale, Arizona,
exemplified the Wrightian influence. There were clubhouse designs that mixed these two
modernist variations by using the rectilinear formalism and flat roofs of the International
Style while using indigenous materials that gave the appearance of organic architecture.
Regardless of the particular purity or mix of modernist options, newly organized country
clubs chose modernism as it increasingly became the most popular architectural style in
the nation.
Some country clubs that built a modernist style clubhouse later replaced it with a
traditional design. Modernist architecture removed the traditional building cues that
conveyed an elite lifestyle. Club members soon longed for a return to heavy timber and
stone in clubhouse construction. By the 1980s architects returned to using historic styles,
although some clubs in western states still preferred the modernist style. Members of the
Sedge-field Country Club of Greensboro, North Carolina, so adamantly preferred their
Tudor-style clubhouse that they restored it. Some architectural firms revived some of
Entries A–F 611
modernism’s early beginnings. In 1994 Klages, Carter, Vail and Partners designed the
Coto de Caza Country Club of California in a manner that reflected the Arts and Crafts
style of Bernard Maybeck and the Greene brothers. Architects began taking a personal
approach to choosing an architectural style for the country club and its clubhouse. They
visited club members’ homes to determine what style they would find most comfortable
in their club life. Thus, modernism’s popularity fell as country club members sought
building styles that better reflected their tastes and values.
Some changes in plan layouts in the postwar era were directed largely by the
introduction of air conditioning. In the past verandas were often part of a clubhouse plan,
but air conditioning now made these porches obsolete. Attempts to create cross venti
lation or to have high ceilings for better air circulation were no longer needed as long as
an air-conditioning system was installed. By the 1950s automobile ownership was
common, and most roads were paved; there was no longer a need for club members to
remain overnight at the clubhouse. Women were increasingly provided equal treatment
with men and women jointly used the same rooms for socializing. The men’s grillroom
often became simply the grillroom in new country clubs. Women were also taking a more
active role in sports, and larger women’s locker rooms reflected this involvement. Thus,
the country club’s floor plan reflected both technical and social changes throughout the
20th century..
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