Country club culture confuses me. Although I live at Brier Creek Country Club (BCCC), I’ve never immersed myself in its lifestyle. Once COVID-19 arrived, I stopped utilizing the club’s amenities altogether. One day, I visited the club’s Instagram and noticed that it looked like it was February. Golfers photographed had mask-free smiles and lacked social distance. I grew puzzled: How could club members live as if the virus is gone? Has Brier Creek turned into a lawless land where members ignore safety guidelines? As I researched Brier Creek’s residents, I had two goals: determine how their socioeconomic status affects how they use the country club during this pandemic and understand why they risk getting sick to regularly leave their homes.
Country clubs are prestigious sporting and social facilities used by those who have memberships to them. Memberships are expensive, so country clubs consist mostly of upper-class, white people. This homogeneity results in club members failing to acknowledge the privilege they have in society (Sherwood, 2010).
Golf, a popular country club activity, can improve lung function, which is crucial during this pandemic (Murray et al., 2016). However, to reap these benefits, country club members should follow safety guidelines to prevent sickness. Guidelines promoted by the CDC include social distancing, which is staying six feet apart from one another, and wearing masks when around people not from one’s household (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). North Carolina, where BCCC is located, requires people to wear masks wherever they cannot social distance (NC Department of Health and Human Services, 2020). Finding BCCC’s safety guidelines is nearly impossible, as they are not online. The only accessible guidelines were posted on a sign at the tennis courts and encouraged social distancing.
Observational and Analysis:
For my first observation, I walked around different parts of the country club. As I walked, I passed by herds of club members not wearing masks. When they walked past me, they never tried to maintain social distance. Instead, they expected me to create social distance for them. Most club members are white, which creates a social hierarchy where I, a woman of color, am expected to accommodate for the majority.
First, I observed the tennis courts, and club members were everywhere. Here, I felt like an outsider. Members here wore tennis attire, and I felt underdressed. People played tennis without masks, although tennis is a socially distant sport. Everyone there was laughing and cheering. Likely, club members come here because it brings them joy. This environment felt eerily normal—as if there was no pandemic.
Then, I observed a golf course. This environment was tranquil, as golfers quietly played. None of the golfers wore masks, and few of them practiced social distancing. The one common attribute these golfers share is their high socioeconomic status. Members here likely ignore COVID safety guidelines since, throughout history, upper-class people were rarely told what to do. Now that they are ordered to follow mask mandates, they reject it. During my entire observation, I saw only one person wear a mask, and he put it on only after seeing me wear one.
After this observation, I had a realization: The country club’s residents ignore safety guidelines likely because they believe that if they’re within their exclusive neighborhood, they’re safe from the virus. This false belief stems from the privacy that the country club provides, which is only available to those in a high social class.
After this observation, I surveyed the country club’s members by posting a form onto a neighborhood forum and asking them to fill it out. The survey asked why members risk getting sick to continue utilizing the club’s amenities. The members gave two main reasons.
Their first reason is their need to stay healthy. Club members described how they use the club’s amenities to exercise. If club members weren’t in a high social class, they wouldn’t have the privilege of maintaining their health during this time. Many Americans work extra hours during the pandemic to stay afloat. Since club members are wealthy and usually retired (Murray et al., 2016), they have more free time to exercise.
The second reason they gave is their desire to return to life before COVID. They feel isolated at home and don’t want COVID to dictate their lives. They believe that if they try to follow safety guidelines, it’s okay to leave home frequently.
While I saw practically no one wearing masks during observation one, many survey respondents claim to wear them. These respondents fascinate me because I didn’t realize that some country club members care about wearing masks. Respondents who do not wear masks mentioned other safety precautions they take, like social distancing and using disinfectant wipes. While club members’ efforts to stay safe should include masks, the other precautions they take prove that they understand the threat of COVID. However, due to the voluntary nature of this survey, club members who follow safety precautions were more likely to respond, making the country club body seem safer than it is.
Furthermore, the culture of breaking guidelines seeps into the country club’s employees. In the survey, one member described how the servers at the club’s restaurant wore their masks around their chins and didn’t care when customers complained about it.
As I assumed, most Brier Creek Country Club members exhibit a lack of awareness. Many members ignore CDC guidelines because their socioeconomic status grants them a false perception of the outside world. In the country club bubble, members do not often see how COVID disproportionately harms low-income communities, so members believe that resuming normal life is acceptable. The country club’s administration exacerbates this issue by not enforcing safety guidelines. While some club members follow safety regulations, members who ignore regulations outnumber them. However, my study has limitations since I observed the club for only one day and surveyed only twenty-three residents.
Although it is possible to get sick, club members regularly utilize the club’s amenities because they desire to return to life before COVID. Rather than hide at home, they believe that people should not let the virus control their lives.
The behavior exhibited at BCCC is the tip of the iceberg, as millions of Americans have given up on following safety precautions. So long as apathy exists, COVID-19 cases will increase. We might not ever return to the pre-COVID world that country clubs try to replicate.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). How to protect yourself & others. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
NC Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, August 3). Requirements for the use of face coverings and masks. North Carolina COVID-19 Information Hub. https://files.nc.gov/covid/documents/guidance/NCDHHS-Interim-Guidance-on-Face-Coverings.pdf
Murray, A. D., Daines, L., Archibald, D., Hawkes, R. A., Schiphorst, C., Kelly, P., Grant, L. & Mutrie, N. (2016). The relationships between golf and health: a scoping review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(1), 12-19. Retrieved from https://bjsm-bmj-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/content/51/1/12
Sherwood, J.H. (2010). The view from the country club: wealthy whites and the matrix of privilege. In K. Guidroz & M.T. Berger (Eds.), The intersectional approach: transforming the academy through race, class, and gender (pp. 217-241). Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
Brier Creek Country Club swim and tennis pavilion. (n.d.) [Photograph of sign in front of clubhouse]. Brier Creek Country Club. Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.briercreekcc.com/.