Why you should care
Because gawking at the ultrarich is truly a universal pastime.
Last year more than three million people visited Yellowstone National Park, and another 16 million visited Disneyland. But it turns out, most of them didn’t see the best parts. These and other popular destinations have their own inner sanctums, where the price of admission can reach six, even seven figures. What else don’t you know about the private club world? OZY got a peek at some havens for the very, very rich.
The Yellowstone Club: Pristine Fields of White … Snow
After filing for bankruptcy in 2008, one of the fanciest resorts in the states, tucked away north of Montana’s Yellowstone National Park, is rolling out the red carpet once more — and has raked in $1 billion over the last two years. After throwing down $4 million to purchase an utterly basic condo on the park’s premises, a $300,000 initiation fee and $36,000 yearly dues seem like peanuts. And with 2,200 acres for skiing and only 250 members, every member has his or her pick of untouched snow, too. And of course, there is — how could there not be? — an 18-hole golf course.
Shadow Creek Golf Course: Sorry, Mr. President. Not Today
You’ve probably heard of the golf courses at Pebble Beach, California, and Augusta, Georgia, but you’d be excused for not knowing about Shadow Creek — unless you count former President Bill Clinton and George Clooney as friends. Even if you did, you still probably can’t secure a tee time at the notoriously media-shy establishment. With a $500-per-round fee and a mandatory stay at the MGM Grand resort to partake, some just don’t make the cut. Like former President George W. Bush, who was the commander in chief when he wanted to play a round at the course but was staying at an MGM Grand competitor. Sorry, said Mark Brenneman, the club’s general manager. Burn.
CORE: club: Not Your Typical WASP Nest
New York City social clubs are as infamous for their prices as they are discrimination. Not the case for CORE: club, which requires only that you meet the former for admission. Started in 2005, with big-shot clients like former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, CORE’s doors open for a $50,000 startup fee plus $15,000 in annual dues. But hey, it’s a club that strives to “curate every aspect of our members’ lives,” says CORE founder Jennie Enterprise. Despite the obvious barriers to entry, the club, which offers on-demand helicopter travel as well as stem cell therapy, is more than half women.
This is a good strategy, according to Edward Merritt, a professor of hospitality management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “As those who can afford $50,000 fees become more diverse in race, color and creed, it only makes good business sense to embrace the rainbow,” he says. “Clubs that diversify stand a much, much higher chance of succeeding.”
Club 33: Disneyland’s Only Watering Hole
You thought Mickey Mouse’s playground was for everyone, but you were wrong. Smack in the middle of Walt Disney’s real-life fantasyland is a restaurant marked by a doorplate that reads, simply, 33. Inside is alcohol — making it an oasis in an otherwise-dry kiddie-land — and better food than turkey legs and cotton candy. That’s about it, as far as we can tell. But the members-only eatery formed by Walt to wine and dine investors has a price tag of up to $11,000 a year. Seriously? How often do you have to go to Disneyland for that to be worth it, we’re not sure.
And we might not be the only ones questioning whether private clubs like these are worthwhile. The 2008 financial crisis certainly made many rethink their priorities, causing a lot of newer clubs to crumble. While the rest of the economy is now rebounding, the Yellowstone Clubs of the world still have a little air in their tires: “The whole industry is lagging way behind the rest of the economy; it’s not even close,” says Jon Peterson, CEO of Peterson Economics, a real-estate consulting firm.