We continue on our journey among the world’s most exclusive golf clubs, those in which only the luckiest (or those with the best connections) can hope to play. This time it is the turn of the Congressional Country Club, which is the most popular club among U.S. politicians. And by the CIA.
The first golf club built through crowdfunding
We are not talking about crowdfunding as we understand it today, of course: something like this would have been impossible in 1921. Nonetheless, the Congressional Contry Club was created through a very similar, though necessarily more limited, mechanism.
It is the early 1920s and golf is becoming increasingly popular, in the United States. Perhaps all too popular. Congressmen Oscar E. Bland and O.R. Luhring are beginning to feel the weight of this unwieldy popularity. In fact, there is not a single exclusive club dedicated only to politicians, industrialists, important members of society.
It is time to fix it, but how?
The two turn to Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce at the time. As a good businessman, Hoover has the idea behind contemporary crowdfunding projects: bring the project to the attention of the target audience and, in exchange for a financial contribution, promise early access to the product/service. Specifically, the three propose a lifetime membership to any member of Congress or entrepreneur who donates $1,000 on trust.
In a few months, the three men manage to raise the necessary money and the project gets off the ground.
Admission for members of Congress only (or nearly so)
Participants in ante litteram crowdfunding include such prominent figures as:
John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men of all time;
Walter Chrysler, founding industrialist of the eponymous automaker;
William Randolph Hearst, the politician and journalist whose story inspired “Citizen Kane.”
Bernard B. Baruch, Lone Wolf of Wall Street and future adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The club was inaugurated on May 23, 1924, with a special event attended by all the nation’s most prominent personalities. The gala dinner has about 7,000 guests, including politicians and American business personalities.
After the opening, the range of excellent club members opens up even more. Not only members of Congress, but even presidents of the United States. Over the years the Congressional Country Club has seen presidents Coolidge, Hoover, Taft, Eisenhower, Bush father and son, Clinton, and Obama pass through.
And the CIA, of course.
The disastr of the Great Depression
What does the CIA have to do with an exclusive golf club? To find out, one must step back to the time of the Great Depression, when all seemed lost for Americans and the Congressional Contry Club.
In 1929, the disastrous collapse of the New York Stock Exchange occurred, kicking off one of the greatest economic disasters of all time. The club is not yet ten years old and is already in danger of dying, crushed by the crisis.
Yet somehow the Congressional Contry Club manages to stay afloat throughout the decade that follows. Until World War II arrives which, instead of dealing the death blow to the club, saves it for good.
The CIA also treads the golf courses. In his own way
It is 1943 and theOffice of Strategic Services is preparing a group of special forces, the future CIA. There is only one problem: there is a lack of a place for men to be trained. You need a large enough, secluded place where you can reproduce the dynamics of the battlefield. It also needs to be controlled by trusted people who care about the fate of the United States.
People like members of Congress, for example.
Future CIA chief William Donovan contacts Congressional management with a proposal that is all too tempting, given the conditions of the club: $4,000 a month to make the golf course a battleground, in the most literal sense of the word. Restructuring will always be borne by the CIA.
Looking at the Congressional fields today, it is impossible to see the craters left by shells and mortar marks. It seems that the $200,000 in renovations was really well spent. Yet, every November a handful of old CIA spies gather at the Congressional Contry Club for an annual meeting, and the recommendation is always the same:
“Please don’t blow anything up.”
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