The Untucked Country Club
THE archetypal country club wears its old-money pretensions on its blue-blazered sleeve. Whether it dates back a century or months, its prevailing spirit tends to be the same: aristocratic and genteel. The clubhouse is likely to be august — a shingle-style megacottage or a fake gothic castle — and the dress code steeped in tradition: Men are to wear jackets in the clubhouse, women’s shorts may be only so short, and out on the golf course any guest so impudent as to allow shirttails to flap freely can expect a polite rebuke from an anxious caddy master before the end of the front nine.
Not so at the Bridge, a golf club principally owned by Robert Rubin, a former commodities trader and self-styled maverick, which is nearing completion on the site of the old Bridgehampton Motor Racing Circuit. Here, the prevailing spirit of casual chic seems to owe as much to Malibu as to Greenwich, Conn.
The clubhouse — glassy and aggressively futuristic — looks more like a contemporary art museum in Berlin, which is not inappropriate, since it will feature, upon its completion this fall, art from Mr. Rubin’s collection. A satirical piece called “Arthur Negro I,” a life-size statue of a black revolutionary in an argyle sweater and plus fours, by Charles McGill, a black artist, will stand in the pro shop.
The 18-hole golf course gets an arty, postmodern treatment: ruins of the old racetrack, including guardrails and flag stations, pop up around the lush fairways. Discarded tires line the cart paths.
And forget about blue blazers. At the Bridge backward ball caps, jeans and even tattoos or face piercings (typically on guests in the music business) attract no steely stares.
In short, the Bridge — despite $600,000 membership fees, which make it one of the most expensive clubs in the country — is an anti-country club of sorts. It is not just the first high-end club in America that dares to be hip but, seemingly, the first one that cares to be hip. Hipness, after all, is not a sensibility typically associated with the sort of middle-aged Gulfstream-flying plutocrat who can write a half-million-dollar-plus check to join a private club. To many a traditional mogul, joining a country club is a statement that he has arrived on the inside. Who would want to spend all that money to look like an outsider?
In the view of Mr. Rubin, a 52-year-old son of an appliance repairman, from Perth Amboy, N.J., the ideal Bridge member would be like himself: a proudly self-made man, young at heart, adventurous, who sets his style compass toward downtown Manhattan — and is, well, very rich.
“The words ‘country club’ make me nervous,” said Mr. Rubin, who left Wall Street in 2000, seemingly to sample from the entire right-hand side of the menu of midlife crisis fantasies: golf club owner, collector of art and vintage cars, Columbia grad student (he’s all-but-dissertation for a doctoral degree in architecture theory and history) and world-traveling 18-hole duffer. “I have felt unwelcome at some of the great clubs in the world,” Mr. Rubin said. He added, “I vowed no one would feel unwelcome at the Bridge.”
Roger Ferris of Roger Ferris & Partners in Westport, Conn., is the architect of the clubhouse and has been collaborating with Mr. Rubin on the look and personality of the club for a decade. Mr. Ferris said the sort of person who will feel most welcome at the Bridge is a new generation of Hamptonite. This generation tended to make its money on Wall Street during the freewheeling 1990’s or in the hedge fund or real estate explosions of recent years but lacks the pedigree or connections to join, say, the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the National Golf Links of America or the Maidstone Club on the South Fork (although several Bridge members hold memberships at multiple local clubs, Mr. Rubin said).
“There are a whole lot of guys who make a hundred million a year, but they are anonymous,” Mr. Ferris said. “So they look for ways to reinforce their presence in the world.” Joining the Bridge, he said, is “another way to say to the world who they are, because most of these guys work at 4-foot-wide desks.” He added: “It says ‘I’m hip. I’m out there.’ ”
The artist Richard Prince is a member, and so is Lyor Cohen, the hip-hop mogul, who has taken a steady stream of his rap artists around the course, the work of the designer Rees Jones. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and Smokey Robinson have played there as guests, and so have Larry Gagosian, the art gallery owner, and Peter Morton, a founder of the Hard Rock Cafe.
David Patrick Columbia, the editor of Newyorksocialdiary.com, said the Bridge fills a need in the Hamptons as a sexier and slightly more conspicuous alternative to traditional clubs.
“The thing about the Maidstone is that you can have all the money in the world, and it won’t help you,” Mr. Columbia said. “They care about your last name. The Bridge is different. Bob Rubin is an eccentric kind of guy. The Bridge is an eccentric golf course. The comparison I would make is, it’s the thinking man’s Ferrari.”
(Another club that seems to cater to this clientele is the Sebonack Golf Club, soon to open officially in Southampton, N.Y. While less out-there in style, the Sebonack, with its sweeping views of Great Peconic Bay, costs $650,000 to join. Mr. Rubin pointed out, a bit defensively, that his was actually the first club in the country to charge more than $500,000 for membership).
Despite the Bridge’s embrace of the casual, not all members are likely to explore the perimeter of the club’s fashion boundaries. Alan C. Greenberg, the chairman of Bear Stearns, is a member, and so are Stephen M. Ross, the chairman of Related Companies, the real estate developers; Howard W. Lutnick, the chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald; and Ira Rennert, the financier.
The most starkly unconventional visual element of the club is its $15 million clubhouse, which will be completed in the fall. (The golf course itself opened in 2002.) The clubhouse features not just the traditional dining room, bar and locker room, but also has a Pilates studio.
One sun-soaked July afternoon, the deeply tanned Mr. Ferris, 50, turned proudly toward the fan-shape building, inspired by the blades on a race car’s turbocharger. The building, whose picture windows will provide a 280-degree view of the craggy 300-acre site, emerges from one of the highest hills in the Hamptons like a glass-and-concrete lotus.
“It’s the most outside-the-box club in the United States, without question,” Mr. Ferris said proudly, wearing copper and turquoise Pumas, his silver locks tickling his shirt collar. “I’ve seen guys meditating up there,” he added, pointing to the grassy expanse just beneath his creation, which has a commanding view of Sag Harbor and Shelter Island.
Several members said they found this nonconformist aura a refreshing change.
Bruce Beal, 36, a partner at Related Companies, joined the Bridge partly because it was “almost the antithesis” of a traditional club, within this insular world, almost egalitarian. “Unlike some of these other clubs, it wasn’t like there had been members there forever, and you were the new member,” Mr. Beal said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Don’t even think about teeing off in front of this guy.’”
Neil Barsky, 48, a hedge fund manager, recalled playing as a guest at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., a few years ago, when he ran into the father of a friend, who was a member: “I stuck out my hand, said, ‘Hi, Mr. So-and-so.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Tuck in your shirt, young man.’ I don’t think that would happen at the Bridge.”
To gain entry prospective members need not submit a family tree to a lockjawed membership committee, still a common feature at the majority of high-end clubs. Instead, they must simply pass muster with Mr. Rubin, who is the membership committee. While he has a partner — Gary Davis, his old Wall Street partner, who has a 25 percent stake in the club — the Bridge is largely a one-man show.
Mr. Rubin’s main criterion for admission is that the applicant is a “good guy,” who “gets the vision,” he said. A bad guy is someone he suspects “is going to act like Rodney Dangerfield in ‘Caddyshack,’ a super Type A person who doesn’t get that the Bridge is supposed to be a sanctuary from all that.” More than a few have been denied. “I’ve turned away people,” he said. “I do it differently. I say, ‘You’re not for the Bridge, and I’m doing you the courtesy of telling you to your face, so that you don’t agonize over it.’ ” Celebrity wattage counts for little, Mr. Rubin said. All members pay in full, and he grants no discounts to movie stars, although he has fielded more than a few entreaties.
So far, 110 “good guys” have made the cut with Mr. Rubin, who said he plans to keep the membership rolls below 150, so that no one ever need call ahead for a tee time. This alone is a reason moguls who care little about high style may find themselves reaching for their checkbooks.
Not everyone in the Hamptons, however, accepts the notion that style is why people are joining the Bridge. Andrea Ackerman, the manager of the Brown Harris Stevens real estate offices in Southampton and Sag Harbor, said that the Atlantic Golf Course in Bridgehampton “was the answer to every golfer’s prayer who wanted to belong to a great golf club and couldn’t,” but now even the Atlantic is full, and moneyed golfers are simply clamoring for the next open spot they see. “The Bridge is more of an overflow from Atlantic than Shinnecock or Maidstone,” she said.
Mr. Rubin has no problem with the new-money aura of the Bridge. Even though some of his members also belong to the Shinnecock and the National, he seems to exercise a form of reverse snobbery against the old-money elites that set the tone at the more traditional clubs. To Mr. Rubin, who last weekend was strolling the hilly sun-dappled grounds of the Bridge looking unshaved and a bit rumpled in baggy navy shorts and sky-blue Chuck Taylors, some of those people probably aren’t quite right for the Bridge, either.
“People who haven’t made their money are very hesitant to spend $600,000 to join a golf club, and for good reason,” the self-made mogul said. “They have to be careful with their money.”