2002: Club Life - Club logos put a stamp on reputation

Certain people might argue that the biggest developments in golf the past decade or so have been the enormous advances in technology. But I think first prize should go to the growing prominence – and perceived importance – of club logos.

It used to be that the designs you saw on most golf shirts represented a major apparel manufacturer or an equipment maker. But now, club logos are all the rage. And where there once was a Munsingwear penguin, now there is more likely a Seminole Indian.

One reason for this phenomenon is looks. As a rule, club logos are infinitely more attractive than anything designed or produced in a Seventh Avenue sweatshop. The best ones are simple in design, small in size and historic in nature. And they evoke a clear sense of the club’s image and feel. Such as the Fishers Island island.

I think people also like the connection to golf a club logo represents. I mean, what does Ralph Lauren and his little polo player really have to do with the sport? But someone who enjoys good golf – and a good golf experience – can relate much more easily to the wicker basket on Merion’s shirts than to the name of the person who used to dress Brooke Shields in blue jeans.

But the biggest reason for this rush to logos is status. A shirt from Cypress Point or Prairie Dunes says more than anything a golfer can get at Bloomingdale’s.

It’s also a matter of country clubs in general – and good ones in particular – becoming so much harder to get into. When someone makes the cut these days, they usually want to share the accomplishment with the world, and one way to do that is to plaster the club logo on everything they own. It’s another sign, along with the BMW, the nanny and the Labrador Retrievers, that they have arrived.

“I think the logo has almost gotten bigger, in some cases than the membership itself,” says my friend Simpson. “When people get into my club, they can’t wait to put the little windshield sticker with the club logo on their cars. That not only tells the guard at the security gate that they are members, but also the entire town.”

The thing is, though, that status-enhancing sticker can easily lead to scorn.

“My wife determined some years ago that we didn’t need to advertise our membership, so we never put any stickers on our cars,” Simpson says. “I wasn’t sure I agreed with that practice until the day I went to the local car wash, and the woman in front of me, who happened to have a sticker on her vehicle, pulled away after an argument with one of the workers. ‘What a stuck-up bitch!’ the man shouted as she drove off. ‘All those country club people are all alike.’ ”

Displaying the logo of your club is one thing, but flying the colors of one you are not a member of – and probably could not get into even if you were a legacy – is another matter altogether. Some might describe it as blatant wannabe-ism, and there is an element of truth to that. But it is also a case of a Shinnecock Hills or a Chicago Golf Club simply having that enviably attractive logo as well as a wonderful – and well-deserved – reputation as a great place to play. That’s why most of my golf shirts and sweaters come from places like that. No foul there, as far as I am concerned. But it can present its own set of problems.

Like the time this spring when I was having lunch with three members at Cypress Point. I had just dipped into my Minestrone when one of my playing partners said, “Well, I guess you have had quite a winter at your club.” I had no idea what he was talking about until I remembered I was wearing a Seminole wind vest (and there had been a recent change of leadership at that Florida retreat). You see, my lunch companion assumed, as most men of his stature and generation would, that a person only wore the logo of a club to which he belonged. Much chagrined, I muttered something about it being quite a winter, indeed, and stared hard into my soup bowl.

Interestingly, the recent fascination with club logos has prompted many clubs to sell two types of apparel – one that has only the logo (for members), and another, for guests, that has both the logo and the club name. It’s a way of separating the “Select” from the “Great Unwashed That Somehow Managed To Get Through The Gates.”

My friend Stratford found out about that during a recent visit to Royal St. George’s in England. He was wandering through the pro shop when he spied a lovely charcoal gray, cashmere sweater with the club logo, an image of old St. George charging forth on his mount.

“Excellent choice,” said the pro as Stratford put it down on the counter. “But I am afraid it is not for you.”

Then he directed him to the “other” part of the store.

Because of an editing error in last month’s Club Life column, it was incorrectly implied that it is harder to get out of clubs such as Pine Valley and Augusta National than it is to get into them. The suggestion should have been that newer clubs with

huge initiation fees are the ones where this phenomenon often exists.

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