Country Club Dropouts

When the economy soured, memberships to Charlotte's elite country clubs plunged. Now, many Charlotteans are without the status symbol they've come to love and rely on

In Charlotte, keeping up with the Joneses has long meant belonging to the right country club.  There's the one  for the athletes (Firethorne), the one for the executives (Ballantyne Country Club), and a few for the old money set (Charlotte Country Club, Myers Park). While country club status has its privileges, memberships are down -- according to the National Golf Foundation, nationally, private club memberships have decreased 29 percent -- because privilege doesn't pay the mortgage, especially when annual dues hit $9,000 (on top of a pricey initiation fee) at some clubs. And for many these days, it's more a matter of keeping up with the bills than the Joneses.

"A few of my friends are toying with the idea of giving it up," says Jodi Basinger, a former member of Providence Country Club who is now at Olde Providence Racquet Club. "A lot of them are just trying to ride [the economy] out."

Lisa Rashotte, an associate sociology professor at UNCC, says giving up the country club lifestyle in a city like Charlotte can be like realizing you're no longer welcome at the right table in the school cafeteria. "For lots of people, the country club is not only a status symbol but homeroom for their social networks, and it can be pretty devastating to give that up," she says. "It's a big part of our identities and can be a real ego blow." Rashotte also adds that status and status symbols (like country clubs) are especially important in cities like Charlotte where there are so many newcomers. "We have cues [like membership to a country club] about people to sort out where they fit in."

Some clubs, such as the Club at Longview, are hoping to keep the American dream alive, though, by offering incentives to bring in new recruits -- offering limited membership levels for activities including pool, golf, or tennis; dining only.

At Ballantyne Country Club some feel like the new approach is working. Jacquie Cugliari and her husband have been members there since the club was built and say that, while they've noticed a different vibe (read: fewer swanky events), they feel like members are coming together. "You have minimums you have to meet [each month]," Cugliari says, "so people are using it more, taking advantage of it more in this economy."

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