The $750,000-Fee Golf Club

The Wall Street Journal


The Bridge has a modern, maverick style – and a whopping $750,000 fee

BRIDGEHAMPTON, N.Y. -- You'd think that a golf club in the Hamptons that costs $750,000 to join would be, first and foremost, fancy fancy fancy. Valet parking for the Bentley, chandeliers in the loo and attendants on the practice range standing ready to mist your face with chilled Evian.

But that is not the kind of golf club that Robert Rubin, the brains behind the Bridge, had in mind. Mr. Rubin, 53, made his fortune trading commodities and currency for Drexel Burnham Lambert and later for AIG, but he retired in his 40s to pursue varied interests like auto racing, golf and working on a Ph.D. in architectural history. "This is an idiosyncratic high-end golf club, not a generic high-end golf club," he says.

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For instance, the lockers don't have name plaques ("Who needs that kind of show-offy touch?" he asks), and there's no formal dress code. "We expect people to dress, you know, OK. You can't run around naked. But if your shirt isn't tucked in, or your teenage son wants to wear his hat backwards, or your guest shows up in cargo shorts, who cares? How is that bothering anybody?"

Easily the most dramatic expression of the club's idiosyncratic nature is the clubhouse, which opened just this month and occupies the highest point of land on the eastern end of Long Island. It has four angular glass-and-steel "blades" that swirl outward from a central hub and feels more like a postmodern museum perched in the hills above Los Angeles than it does anything traditionally associated with golf.

According to the architect, Roger Ferris, the blade-like design picks up on both the "dynamic tempo" of a golf swing and on the impeller assembly of a turbo-charged racing engine. In any case, the 280-degree views of the Rees Jones-designed golf course, which has been open for several years, and Peconic Bay beyond are spectacular.

"The world has enough shingle-style, McMansion clubhouses," says Mr. Rubin, who effectively controls all but 25% of the shares in the club. (The rest are held by his acquiescent business partner, Gary Davis.) "What we're creating here, we think, is a model for the 21st-century golf club."

The Clubhouse

The basis for that model is Mr. Rubin's interpretation of how people actually use golf clubs these days.

"The clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills perfectly reflected its time and place," Mr. Rubin observes, referring to the famed 116-year-old golf club only seven miles away and its classic Stanford White structure. Messrs. Rubin and Ferris consciously imitated the way the Shinnecock clubhouse dominates its landscape and is grandly visible from many locations on the course. But functionally, Mr. Rubin contends, the old clubhouses are no longer relevant, even though a lot of new clubhouses still reflexively ape them.

"Most of the stuff in those places never gets used, so we tried to keep our clubhouse very clean and simple. We were after stylish informality," he says. The Bridge has no banquet hall, only a smallish dining room, bar and terrace, and will not rent itself out for cocktail parties or similar functions. "We don't want members coming off the 18th hole at 6:30 or 7 o'clock in the evening and feel like they're getting crowded out of their own clubhouse."

Another thing that Mr. Rubin noticed is that modern golf-club members like to sit around in their locker rooms after a round and schmooze, so he decreed that the locker rooms should have the nicest views. As a result, the entire front walls of both the men's and women's versions are floor-to-ceiling glass, 24 feet tall in places, and they open out directly onto the club's wraparound stone terrace. Standing around in a towel is a great way to enjoy the view.

Mr. Rubin acknowledges that some of the club's features are "a little strange." The exercise room has only Pilates equipment, for instance. He finds televisions in the locker room to be bothersome, so he allows only the one at the bar. And the art reflects his own peculiar interests, including racing cars (the 520-acre site was originally a track, which he took control of in the 1980s and ran for years) and mid-20th-century French furniture.

You Missed the $500,000 Discount

But none of this has kept him from finding members, even at $750,000 a pop (the earliest memberships went for a mere $500,000). Mostly they are self-made men (and a handful of women) in finance, hedge funds and real estate, with a couple of doctors and lawyers thrown in (he calls them his "scholarship guys," although they get no discount) and a few in entertainment (including hip-hop mogul Lyor Cohen and artist Richard Prince).

"It can sound like a ridiculous amount of money, but a lot of members justify the cost by thinking of the club as the extra room they don't have to add onto their house," Mr. Rubin says. In an area where houses routinely cost $5 million, and the really good ones near the ocean go for $10 million or more, this argument holds some logic, especially since membership will cap, at least for the time being, at 150. Currently the count is 129. He describes the club, with its cool, minimalist architecture, and its astounding views, as a place to appreciate the more meditative aspects of golf, which too much traffic would spoil.

But if I were a member, I'd have a hard time not meditating about that $750,000 initiation fee -- which doesn't include tax, by the way, or the annual dues of around $20,000. The tax, about $62,000, is particularly interesting to contemplate. In most places it would get you the best golf-club membership in town, and maybe a BMW to boot.

• Email the author at golfjournal@wsj.com

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