The popular image of country clubs is that of playgrounds for the rich, built on old money. The idea that a golf club might have moments of financial struggle seems absurd.
Which brings us to the colorful past of the Inglewood Golf Club. For decades, Inglewood always seemed to get in the financial rough, yet still managed to find the green.
“The first trouble came when the clubhouse burned down, just a few years after the club was founded,” said Kent Ahlf, past president and historian for Inglewood.
Inglewood is the Eastside’s oldest golf club. It was founded in 1919 and built over the next two years. Shortly after it opened, in 1925, Ahlf said the clubhouse went up in flames. “It wasn’t much of a loss,” he said. “The place was barely more than sort of a beach cottage.” But the insurance payout — a whopping $12,000 — hardly qualified as a down payment on the new clubhouse, a 50,000-square-foot beauty that’s still standing today. At the time it was built, the price of the new clubhouse was $172,290 ($2.5 million in 2017 dollars) and membership dues were barely able to cover the cost. Inglewood even purchased slot machines to provide a new revenue stream. Inglewood’s estimated take was to be $6,000 a year.
And then the stock market crashed. And so did Inglewood’s membership, dwindling to only 48 members.
Before long, the club didn’t have enough members or money to finance the loan of the new clubhouse and the insurance company foreclosed. But in 1942, a land developer named Joel Barron bought the club and immediately leased it to the Coast Guard to use as a training station. Workers at the shipyard in Kirkland also rented space there. The Inglewood Golf Club became a dormitory, housing 300 men, each paying $12.50 a week.
When Barron bought the club, the course was closed, and the fairways and greens lay fallow. The maintenance team was made up of sheep and goats.
But after the war things took a turn for the better. Inglewood reopened in 1946, and in a slick bit of marketing, hired Ed “Porky” Oliver as the club pro. Oliver, a popular PGA player who was a Ryder Cup member and first runner up in the U.S. Open, spent most of his days on tour, rubbing elbows with the likes of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan. Oliver banged the Inglewood drum and people responded. Membership began to grow again, tournaments came, the course was rated one of the top 40 in the country, and soon the club was making ends meet, although money still was tight. The club turned to raising its own chickens and hogs for eggs and meat. The pens were located along the 9th fairway.
The 1950s were the club’s heyday, but by the end of the ’60s, the financial roller-coaster went through another valley because Barron kept raising the rent on the lease. “The club even went so far as to cut down trees on the course and sell them to help pay the rent,” said Ahlf. In 1969, more than a dozen members, frustrated by Barron’s lease, left Inglewood to start their own club — Sahalee.
In 1975, Jack Barron, Joel’s son, was finished with the roller-coaster, and agreed to sell the club to the members for $2.2 million. It was a profit just shy of $2 million.
Fast forward to 2017, and Inglewood Golf Club is doing just fine. The Kenmore golf club remains one of the most esteemed courses in the Northwest that has, and still is, turning out nationally recognized golf champions. Financially, life is good. Inglewood paid off its mortgage in 1989 — celebrating with a burn-the-mortgage-party — and has had several major remodels since, with more renovations still being planned. If you’re looking to join, the initiation fee is $9,500, and monthly dues are $624 for a family, or $510 for a single. Driving range use is included.
It’s easy to roll your eyes at the thought of country clubs having to resort to bake sales and car washes to make ends meet. But if you run a club for almost 100 years, it seems that’s simply par for the course.