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Barbarian at the Tee

The Maidstone Club in East Hampton may be snooty, but it also has quite a lovely golf course. Which one nonmember decided he just had to play.


The author at the Maidstone Club.  

The next day, I’ll see the headline—SKI-MASK SEX FIEND IN MAIDSTONE CLUB ATTACK— on the cover of the Post and will understand, but at nine in the morning when I drive by for my last recon mission, all I know is Maidstone is crawling with cops. A quarter of a mile east of the club, at the bucolic intersection of Windmill and Further Lanes, a female member of the East Hampton Village Police Department stands in the middle of the road and stares into every passing car; across from Old Beach Lane, which runs straight up to the imposing twenties clubhouse, Suffolk County cruisers are parked on the grass. When I slow to a crawl, I spot the K-9 unit working the fence along Highway Behind the Pond, and unless I’m losing my mind, I hear a police chopper overhead.

It’s just random bad luck, I tell myself. Maybe a raccoon tripped an alarm at Seinfeld’s place. But it’s hard to dispel the notion that all these cops are here for me. If I had an iota of discipline, I’d walk away, but I’ve told too many friends I was going to do this to back down now. So when I return to my place, I fish the card for Montauk Taxi out of the drawer. Due to the lack of convenient public parking, I need a lift, and at noon, a yellow minivan pulls up to my cottage. The driver helps me load my gear and invites me in front; my stomach turns as he broadcasts the pickup and destination on his two-way radio. He takes 27 to Bluff, then turns onto Further, where the houses and lawns loom bigger and bigger, then disappear behind tall, thick hedges. The driver, who wears a sleeveless button-down shirt and tells me he moved back in with his father twenty years ago, points out celebrity mailboxes, and we shake our heads at the incomprehensible price tags.

There are still more cops than usual, but the officer has stepped out of the road, and only one cruiser guards Maidstone. I can see that the first hole is empty. So is the second, and as soon as we pass it, I point to a shingled mansion on the right.

“Here on the shoulder is fine,” I say. I remove my rattling bag and orange cart, clumsily strap one to the other, and step lively back down the road. Across from the second green, a sandy path leads through a break in the trees. I walk along it and step onto the third fairway of the Maidstone Club the same way I entered the world half a century before, alone and uninvited.

Why I’m taking this risk when I could’ve groveled onto this course with a couple of phone calls can’t be easily explained. A month after the fact, I’m not sure if it was primarily a prank or a test, a political statement or a sociological experiment, a last gasp of adolescent righteousness or the latest symptom of a midlife crisis. And even if my outrage at Maidstone’s archaic membership policies is a bit forced, there’s something gratifying about mocking an institution that derives such satisfaction from its exclusivity and whose labyrinthine admissions process is designed to exclude bad eggs like me.

Maidstone, the original name of East Hampton and the part of Kent where the town’s first English settlers were from, isn’t the only gated realm I might have encroached upon. There is only one eighteen-hole public course in the Hamptons, Montauk Downs, but plenty of country clubs, and Maidstone is by no means at the top of the food chain. Maidstone members, many of whom are second and third generation, are descended from the oldest and finest East Hampton families, but by now their influence barely reaches to the edge of town. Meanwhile, the members of Shinnecock and National, both in Southampton, run corporate America and Wall Street, and the new Jewish money at Atlantic in Bridgehampton is far more impressive.

Still, there’s a historic smugness about Maidstone (African-American members: reputed to be zero and holding) that cries out for Caddyshack-style treatment. In the eighties, the club made Diana Ross feel so unwelcome after she married a Maidstone member that he promptly resigned, and during the summer of Monica, Bill Clinton was denied a tee time. In Philistines at the Hedgerow, which contains an index listing “Maidstone Club (East Hampton): bigotry of,” author Steven Gaines reports that after Jewish senator Jacob Javits played there, members claimed the grass he stepped on turned brown, and describes how members threw a fit after a nearly drowned South American housekeeper had the gall to drag herself ashore on their beach.

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