One of the time-honored symbols of upper-class success in America is membership in a private country club.  Some of these exclusive groups charge as much as $350,000 just to join.  And even those who are not golfers sometimes pay that money, plus monthly dues, just so they can have dinner and drinks in a luxurious, restricted setting with others who have made it financially.  A lot of big business deals get settled with a handshake over drinks, golf or a game of cards at "the club," as members like to call it.

But many country clubs are struggling these days or have had to compromise their exclusivity.  The magazine Golf Digest says some clubs are, in its words, "desperate" for new members because of the economic downtown and because so many private clubs have popped up that prospective members have a lot from which to choose.

Some country clubs that once admitted members by invitation only are now advertising and drastically cutting fees. 

Many of the very finest clubs have been able to hang onto their members and colossal dues because of their prestige.  But a survey of the nation's 4,400 private country clubs, with about 2 million members, indicates that as many as 500 are in serious risk of closing. Golf Digest found many clubs with long waiting lists - not to get in but to get out!

As the Baltimore Business Journal quoted a University of Maryland economist, "Some longtime golf club members [are] dropping course memberships because money they used to make in the stock market to pay club dues has dried up." 

The Washington Post sent a reporter up to the blue-collar town of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where he found that the venerable Uniontown Country Club had opened its dining room to the public for the first time.  Membership has dropped from 450 a few years ago to just 180 today. "Not long ago, people were dying to get in here and enjoy the luxuries of life," a longtime member told the Post.  "Now we're trying to pull anybody in. The whole culture has changed overnight."

Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.