A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 6

Posted on October 16th, 2017 by

generations 2004Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part VI: The View from a New Millenium

Missed parts 1-5? Start here.

But here we are, 25 years later, and clearly, the clubs have survived. Not all of them, to be sure. At the height of country club popularity in the 1950s, several new Jewish clubs started up in the Baltimore area. Boonie View, Summit, and Chestnut Ridge didn’t really compete with Woodholme and Suburban; rather, they offered a less expensive alternative with “less formality and restrictions,” especially with regard to children. Around the same time, a long-established in-town club, the Mercantile, bought property in the suburbs and turned itself into a country club (sans golf, though). Of the four, only Chestnut Ridge survives today.[1]

It wasn’t cultural values spawned in the 1960s that did these clubs in. In fact, status-consciousness and materialism made a big comeback in the Reagan era. Rather, country clubs have confronted other challenges in recent decades. They face much more competition from an explosion in entertainment and recreation options, from high-end public golf courses, health clubs, and home swimming pools to restaurants, cable television, summer camps, and increasingly diverse vacation opportunities. Meanwhile, even well-to-do families have experienced a financial crunch, with many sending their children to private schools and all confronting skyrocketing college fees. Amidst all these expenses, country clubs have become more of a luxury that ever, one that many people find it possible to forego.[2]

To meet these new challenges, Suburban and Woodholme, as always, have had to adapt. Woodholme “is no longer a social hub,” Paul Goldberg points out, no longer the main gathering place for its members’ social lives. Its general manager, Mitchell Platt, concurs. “There are a lot more things pulling people away from clubs…That’s the challenge to maintaining a club today.” According to Platt, country clubs have to constantly improve, to offer their members services as a level that convinces them it’s still worthwhile to belong Woodholme’s clubhouse underwent a complete renovation in 1993, built a new Olympic-sized pool two years ago, and has begun to emphasize services that previously were not central to its operation. For example, it now aggressively markets itself as a premier place for private parties. But its continued commitment to golf remains “the driving force” in membership recruitment and retention, says Platt (in a nifty, if unintentional, pun).[3]

At Suburban, adaptation has taken a different form. If, as one Suburban member acknowledges, Woodholme now has “a younger, more aggressive membership,” another member asserts that the Suburban Club provides “a home away from home” for a membership that tends to be older and a bit less active. Its excellent dining facilities, convenient location, and quiet atmosphere compare favorably to crowded and noisy restaurants, and many members spend much time there; as one person noted, “We eat there two or three times a week.” Also, Suburban has made accommodations for new members who arrive from other clubs. It received a large contingent from the recently closed Bonnie View – and also attracted new members from a somewhat surprising place a few years ago: Woodholme, where disagreements over land sales and tee-time policies caused some members to resign.[4]

Woodholme members joining Suburban? Apparently it really is a new millennium. Actually, the German-East European split that had marked Baltimore Jewry for decades began to break down, as did so many other social norms, in the post-World War II era. Some say that the Suburban Club began to relent as early as the 1930s, when the Depression forced it to “lower” its membership standards. But most date the change a bit later. Bertha Friedberg believes that attitudes began to change “after Hitler,” when “every Jew felt their Jewish identity more strongly,” and the community “felt more united.” As the “product of a mixed marriage” (her father was Lithuanian and her mother German), she is in a position to know. “I’ve had a foot in both communities,” she observes, and she has been a member of both country clubs. The change didn’t take place overnight: Friedberg as well as other Suburban and Woodholme members describe a gradual thaw that accelerated in the 1960s and 1970, when many Jews of Eastern European descent began to join Suburban. (Notably, this was another period when country clubs needed to take action to keep membership figures up.) Today, the distinction between the “Germans” and the “Russians” “Doesn’t exist anymore,” says Morton Offit, son of a Woodholme founder. “Everything changes.” While some other Suburban members retain a lingering nostalgia for the days when German Jewry reigned over the social scene, they are a decided minority.[5]

Today, members at both clubs are less likely to have roots in the community than in previous eras, making the old divisions even more irrelevant. Nevertheless, a strong sense of family tradition continues to pervade these two venerable Baltimore Jewish institutions. Julius Westheimer notes that his family has belonged to the Suburban Club for more than 100 years, giving him an association with the club since birth – both his and Suburban’s. That’s not a legacy to be taken lightly. Morton Offit echoes his sentiments from the other side of Pikesville. “I guess I’ve been a member of Woodholme all my life…Every time I go out to the club, I wave at my father’s picture,” which hangs on the wall alongside other Woodholme founders.

 Julius Braun, Harry Schaeneman, Lenny Wertheimer, Suburban Club, 1911. JMM 1997.113.5

Julius Braun, Harry Schaeneman, Lenny Wertheimer, Suburban Club, 1911. JMM 1997.113.5

And what of the future? Again, many people see an uncertain outlook for country clubs. “It’s a dynamic situation,” says Sewell Sugar, who thinks that country clubs may be “on their way out.” As he points out, “My kids won’t go out there.” Their interests run more to travel, hiking, and other sorts of recreational activities that country clubs can’t fulfill. Suburban member E. B. Hirsh agrees.  Her grandchildren “don’t think that club life is the way to go” – they keep busy with school, summer camps, and family vacations. Arthur Gutman sees Suburban’s aging membership as “a bad sign.” Says Bertha Friedberg, “Many young people choose not to belong to clubs anymore.” Given all the economic demands on their families, “It’s too expensive.” Plus, she observes, with both parents usually working, lifestyles have changed drastically, leaving the clubs behind.

But the Suburban Club has been around for over a century, and Woodholme for almost 80 years. It’s hard to imagine them disappearing. Most likely, they will adapt – something they are surprisingly good at. True, they won’t be “your grandfather’s country club,” but quite possibly, they will find ways to continue playing a role in Baltimore’s Jewish recreational and social scene.

~The End~


[1] Nugent, “Some Things You Always Wanted to Know,” 34; Mercantile Club vertical file, JMM; “Mercantile Country Club Sells Land To Pay Debts,” Jewish Times, October 23, 1987; Lisa Rosato, “Reisterstown Golf Site Dropped,” Owings Mills Times, September 24, 2003. Quote is from Karen Stuhler, “Northwest Baltimore, Ranchleigh & The Bonnie View Country Club: A Historical and Architectural Review” (unpublished paper, Maryland Room vertical files, Enoch Pratt Free Library), 6.

[2] Various interviews.

[3] Glodberg, Platt interviews; “About Our Blub.”

[4] Various interviews; rosato, “Reisterstwon Gold Site Dropped;” David Conn, “A Bad Slice: Attrition, and Possibly Land Purchases, Leaves Woodholme Poorer by About 40 Families,” Jewish Times (from JMM vertical files).

[5] Bertha Friedberg, phone interview with author, December 2004; Offit interview; other interviews.

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A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 5

Posted on October 11th, 2017 by

generations 2004Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part V: Controversies and Changing Times

Missed parts 1-4? Start here.

Before Glick, wives of Woodholme members didn’t play much gold, observes Sewell Sugar. Perhaps that’s because club policies toward women, as at most other clubs around the country, weren’t exactly equitable. Women became “much more a part of the club in the fifties” and continued to make gains in ensuing decades. They “had to push a little bit,” says Sugar, because most of the older people were not prone to change.” One who pushed was Lyn P. Meyerhoff, a woman who enjoyed “thumbing her nose at convention,” according to her daughter Lee. Once, Meyerhoff “did nine holes of the Woodholme Country Club golf course backward, because women were always bumped by the men for tee-off times, and she was furious at the ‘old fart’ inequity of the practice.” She also dove off the high-dive at the Woodholme pool when she was five months pregnant, “at a time when women covered their bellies behind voluminous tent dresses.” This was in the 1950s, when, it appears, the extended Meyerhoff family considerably livened things up at the club.[1]

Suburban Club swimming pool, July 1927. Photograph by the Baltimore News. JMM 1985.35.3

Suburban Club swimming pool, July 1927. Photograph by the Baltimore News. JMM 1985.35.3

Lyn Meyerhoff heralded a changing attitude among at least some wives of club members, who slowly began to assert themselves. Their emergence led to what members of both country clubs see as the biggest single change to take place over the years: the clubs’ policies toward children. Originally, the clubs catered strictly to adults, primarily men. Members from multi-generational Suburban Club families recall that the club was “not a child-friendly place” when they were young. Children were allowed on the grounds only during very limited hours and there were no special facilities for them. As society grew more child-centered, so did the country clubs. At Suburban, change stated with the inclusion of a Youth Room in the new clubhouse, built in 1960, and the installation of a “kiddie pool” in 1961. Hours for children slowly began to expand, and now, as Julius Westheimer notes, “it’s a family affair.” Ditto at Woodholme, which is “really a family club right now,” says Sewell Sugar.[2]

Despite the emergence of women and children, policies at Woodholme and other clubs have remained biased in favor of men in many areas. A Baltimore Sun article written during the 2003 controversy over the all-male policy at Augusta National (home of the Master’s golf tournament) revealed that Woodholme’s latest female golf standout, ten-time amateur women’s city champion and two-time state champion Andrea Kraus, was barred from teeing off until 11:30am on weekends and holidays, even though her husband Ken, “who often shoots in the triple digits,” could do so. “Country club golf certainly can be the last bastion of male chauvinism,” Kraus was quoted as saying.[3]

Rosalyn Shecter playing golf at Woodholme Country Club, c. 1968. JMM 1974.21.15

Rosalyn Shecter playing golf at Woodholme Country Club, c. 1968. JMM 1974.21.15

But things could be worse, unlike some clubs, both Woodholme and Suburban admit women to membership. (At Suburban, they had a sort of “junior” membership from the very beginning, while Woodholme admitted women to membership in later years.) After two decades of board wrangling, Suburban gave full voting rights to female members I n1988, and in 1990, “objections to sexism” caused the club to integrate its card rooms. Suburban now officially has “gender neutral” policies. Perhaps not totally out of choice, though: country clubs that benefit from a special tax break for preserving open space are legally required to be non-discriminatory. Suburban takes the tax break; Woodholme chooses not to.[4]

Of course, country clubs are famous for being bastions not only of male privilege, but also of white privilege. Suburban and Woodholme seem little different from the norm in that regard. Both have membership policies that do not officially discriminate with regard to race, religion, or gender. But the clubs have very few African American or non-Jewish members. A fascinating view of black-Jewish relations can be glimpsed in the memoir of Dewayne Wickham, an African American journalist who worked in Woodholme’s largely black caddy force in his teens during the early 1960s. Woodholme members were “not intentionally mean-spirited or racist,” but could be “condescending and patronizing in the way [of] many white liberals,” Wickham observes. Yet the club provided an anchor in his life, which had been marked by tragedy, and his affection for it shines through. He describes the generosity of many club members and the positive response of club officials to the caddies’ efforts to improve their working conditions. In his portrayal of fumbling attempts at communication across the racial divide made by caddies and members, and the shared love of golf that served as perhaps the most genuine link between the two, he captures the complexities of life in an unequal society just beginning to feel the effects of the civil rights movement.[5]

If societal change began to infiltrate the sheltered country club world of the 1950s, it started knocking loudly at the door during the turbulent years to come. Clubs fell out of favor as a result of “the new social consciousness which came out of the 1960s and which turned many people off to such status symbols as Cadillacs and country clubs.” This was the assessment of reporter Tom Nugent, whose 1977 Jewish Times exposé of Baltimore’s Jewish country clubs attempted to assess the fallout of the previous decade. To attract flagging interest, clubs had to alter their policies. “The relaxation of once-stringent dress codes; the drastic reduction of initiation fees…the liberalizing and streamlining of procedures for admission…all these things are evidence” of the transformation taking place, Nugent asserted. Worse, he noted, were “occasional incidents of shocking behavior in the club house,” including at least one instance of co-ed showering. He quoted an (anonymous) member of an (unnamed) club: “I know it must irritate the hell out of [older members] to see what’s happened in their club. They used to walk in and everything was very refined, and everything was very tastefully done – and it’s turned into Tackyville! The whole atmosphere is just completely different.”[6]

Nugent concluded, back in 1977, that country clubs faced an “uncertain future.” His informants had different views on whether or not they would even survive. “It’s all changing. It’s a way of life, really, that’s ending,” one member told him.[7]

Continue to Part VI: The View from a New Millenium


[1] Sugar interview; Lee Meyerhoff Hendler, e-mail correspondence supplied to author, March 17, 2005.

[2] E. B. Hirsh, phone interview with author, December 2004; Morton Offit, phone interview with author, December 2004; Westheimer, Sugar, other interviews; The Suburban Club, 46.

[3] Don Markus, “Golf’s Private Policy Meets Public Debate,” Baltimore Sun, April 7, 2003, 1D.

[4] The Suburban Club, 45, 69; Woodholme Club Vertical File, JMM.

[5] Dewayne Wickham, Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone(New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), 219.

[6] Tom Nugent, “Some Things You Always Wanted to Know About Country Clubs, And More,” Jewish Times, October 7, 1977, 31.

[7] Nugent, “Some Things You Always Wanted to Know,” 31, 34.

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A Club of Their Own: Suburban and Woodholme Through the Years, Part 4

Posted on October 9th, 2017 by

generations 2004Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part IV: Sporting and Cavorting

Miss parts 1-3? Start at the beginning.

Continuity and change have marked social life at Woodholme and Suburban. In the beginning, Suburbanites took the trolley out to the club for Saturday night dances. “It is said that there were some wild moments on the last trolleys back to the city around midnight,” reveals the Suburban Club history. For more sedentary members, card-playing proved popular, with separate card rooms for men and women, a standard country club feature. In 1905 the club found it necessary to make rules “to regulate the play of bridge whist by ladies.” Whatever unruly behavior may have occurred did so in elegant fashion, however, since a strict dress code applied. Home-grown productions entertained members from the start, from a 1911 Minstrel Show by the Suburban Flyers to a poolside fashion show some years later, where “Suburban member-models wore the latest fashions from Hutzler’s, Hochschild’s, and Schleisner’s downtown department stores.” Presumably they had no problem obtaining the right outfits, since the stores were all owned by club members.[1]

In the thirties and forties, the Suburban Club “was THE place to be,” says Mary Louise (“Wheezie”) Gutman. “I can remember we went there every Saturday night, and if you didn’t have a date to go there you were considered a lemon.” The unheated clubhouse closed for the cold months, during which time the Phoenix Club took over as German Jewry’s social center (the two clubs had virtually identical membership rosters). “The Phoenix Club’s china used to go to the Suburban Club for the summer and go back to the Phoenix Club in the winter,” Arthur Gutman relates.[2]

At Woodholme, an initial focus on golf and the nation’s plunge into Depression made for a somewhat slow start for the social scene, but with the building of a new clubhouse in 1948, the club came into its own. In fact, both clubs entered their glory years in the late forties. With the Depression and World War II fading into memory, Americans in the postwar era were in the mood to play, and the two clubs had the means to do it in style. Both hosted a lively round of dances, shows, parties, and games of all sorts. Woodholme was “the hub of athletic and social activities for the membership,” says longtime member Paul Goldberg. “No matter what you did on a Saturday night, you always gravitated back to the club…There was always a band, there was always dancing. It was the place to go.”[3]

Woodholme’s social scene tended to be more casual than Suburban’s, and more open to outsiders. Goldberg, a native East Baltimorean who moved back to the old neighborhood after military service in World War II, splurged on a membership because he wanted to play golf. He knew few Woodholme members, so to fill out his membership application, “I managed to dredge up three or four names of people I knew casually,” he says. “But they took me anyway because I was single.” It was “very, very easy” to get to know people: his first day on the course, the golf pro fixed him up with a threesome just starting out. The atmosphere was of “a small family group,” but one that welcomed new members.

One especially festive winter night in 1958, Harry and Marilyn Meyerhoff hosted a luau, with decorations “flown in from the islands especially for the part,” according to the Baltimore Sun. Birds of paradise, eucalyptus palms, and a thatch-roofed bar set the proper atmosphere. Even the invitations were written in Hawaiian (with English translation); Goldberg recalls going to the Pratt library to look up the words to respond in kind. Female guests came in grass skirts, muumuus, and sarongs, while the men donned “aloha shirts” and straw hats. Mr. and Mrs. Archie Wolfsheimer came dressed as cans of pineapple. Marilyn Meyerhoff’s outfit, described in detail by the Sun, featured “a bra made entirely of orchids.” The party, remembered to this day by many of the guests, cost nearly $10,000, making it “one of Baltimore’s more expensive private parties of the past year or so,” estimated the Sun. The festivities broke up after 3 a.m. Until then, guests dined on, among other things, barbequed shrimp and spare ribs, bacon slices wrapped around Spanish melon, lobster in avocado sauce, crabmeat on buttered toast, and the featured entrée, roast suckling pig.[4]

Sburban Club menu, c. 1958. JMM 1988.218.33a

Sburban Club menu, c. 1958. JMM 1988.218.33a

Not exactly a kosher menu, but neither Woodholme nor Suburban ever worried about such matters. From the Seafood Supreme served at one early Suburban luncheon to the Deluxe Seafood Bar on offer at Woodholme’s 75th anniversary celebration in 2002, the clubs’ chefs have focused on pleasing their members’ taste buds, not reflecting their religious affiliation. In fact, there has been little overtly “Jewish” in the clubs’ policies or daily operations. As the Suburban history points out, “there is no intent stated in the charter, bylaws, or minutes to serve only the Jewish community.” In the mid-1930s, the rabbis of the three Reform congregations asked Suburban officials to close the facilities on Yom Kippur. “The Board decided there was no reason to change longstanding practice and the Club would remain open,” the board minutes relate. However, the board later reversed the policy – and began the practice of giving Reform rabbis complimentary memberships. In later years, the Club offered a Shabbat menu at Friday dinner, “but the few orders received for it brought about its demise,” notes the Suburban history. (Recently, this option has reappeared on the menu, members say.”[5]

There has been one major exception to the lack of “Jewishness” in official club policies. Both Woodholme and Suburban have fostered a sense of communal responsibility, requiring their members not only to contribute to charity, but also to support Jewish philanthropies with at least a portion of their charitable dollars. “If you’re lucky enough to belong to a country club, Suburban member Ann Neumann Libov points out, “you’re lucky enough to give to charity, and especially support the Jewish community.”  AS early as 1927, the suburban board voted to consider charitable contributions in selecting members, and in 1937 required that members contribute at least $50 per year to the Associated Jewish Charities. Today, Suburban members must give a percentage of their dues amount to charity, and at least half of that is expected to go to the Associated or Associated agencies. Woodholme members’ charitable contributions must match their dues amount, and they must also give a certain portion to the Associated.[6]

Suburban Club baseball team, Oct. 1, 1909. Pictured are R. Maisel, Anderson, Goldman, E. Maisel, E. Strouse (Straus?), Parlette, unidentified, Aldridge, M. Strouse (Straus?), Wolf, Fowler, Rodger Pippen, and Zink. JMM 1985.90.19

Suburban Club baseball team, Oct. 1, 1909. Pictured are R. Maisel, Anderson, Goldman, E. Maisel, E. Strouse (Straus?), Parlette, unidentified, Aldridge, M. Strouse (Straus?), Wolf, Fowler, Rodger Pippen, and Zink. JMM 1985.90.19

Nevertheless, country clubs are not charities, their raison d’être is recreation, and sports have featured prominently at both Suburban and Woodholme. In the early 1900s, baseball reigned supreme in America, and every club had its amateur team. The Suburban Club played against other clubs in the area, and the competition as serious – it was not unknown for a team to have one or two non-member “ringers.” While the sport was wildly popular with spectators, it had relatively few participants. In 1928, in a clear sign of the times, the baseball team was dissolved because its diamond was needed for an urgent cause: a parking lot. On the other hand, swimming and tennis drew many players at Suburban, attracted by championship-quality facilities. Suburban produced male and female champions in both sports over the years, including Wheezie Gutman, who in her early twenties won the women’s city tennis championship. She attributes the success of Suburban’s tennis program to “the finest clay courts in Baltimore” and the coaching of the club’s tennis professionals.[7]

The putting green at the Suburban Club, July 1927. JMM 1985.35.5

The putting green at the Suburban Club, July 1927. JMM 1985.35.5

But everywhere, “golf is the anchor of the country club,” as one interviewee put it. Until recently, public golf courses were not very good, so anyone who truly wanted to play had to join a club. At Woodholme, even with today’s high-end public courses, golf is still “the primary lure,” says Paul Goldberg. That’s because of Woodholme’s championship-level course, a challenging 18 holes that serious golfers continue to relish playing. Although a poll was first built in 1938 and tennis enjoyed its moment of glory from the fifties to the eighties, golf has always been the club’s pride and joy. In fact, according to former member Sewell Sugar, “Woodholme evolved from a simple, male-oriented golf club” into a “full blown country club” only over a period of decades.[8]

Male-oriented, that is, until the legendary Evelyn Glick came along. The wife of a Woodholme member, Glick took up golf at age 30 and proceeded to dominate the women’s amateur scene in Maryland from the 1940s to the 1960s. From her base at Woodholme, Glick was the “undisputed queen of the fairways,” reported the Baltimore Sun in 1956. Winner of numerous city, state, and regional championships, she was inducted in to the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977. “Whatever she did, she did full blast,” Sugar recalls.[9]

Continue to Part V: Controversies and Changing Times


[1] The Suburban Club, 60-62.

[2] Arthur and Wheezie Gutman interview; The Suburban Club, 63.

[3] “About Our Club” (JMM Vertical Files, courtesy of Woodholme Country Club); Pail Goldberg, phone interview with author, December 2004.

[4] Audrey Bishop, “If Winter Comes – An Indoor Luau,” Baltimore Sun, January 26, 1958.

[5] Suburban Club menu, JMM 1990.233.4; Woodholme anniversary program (JMM Vertical Files, courtesy of Woodholme Country Club); The Suburban Club, 22, 32, 34, 42, 70; various interviews.

[6] The Suburban Club, 44; Ann Neuman Libov, phone interview with author, December 2004; Mitchell Platt, interview with author, December 9, 2004.

[7] The Suburban Club, 73-77; Wheezie Gutman interview.

[8] Sewell Sugar, phone interview with author, December 2004.

[9] Fred Rasmussen, “Evelyn G. Glick, 87, Golfer,” Baltimore Sun, October 18, 1998 (obituary); “Woodholme Club ‘Becomes of Age,’” Baltimore Sun, April 1, 1956; Sugar interview.

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