Obama Gets Woodmont Invitation; South Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Pressured on Club Membership

By | January 24th, 2017

The former President and his wife have been invited to join Woodmont CC in Rockville, Md. as “special members,” in an attempt to quell the dispute over whether they should be excluded because of the policies toward Israel that were instituted by his Adminstration. In South Carolina, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, expected to succeed Nikki Haley as Governor, came under fire for belonging to The Forest Lake Club of Columbia, S.C.


Club-membership controversies involving high-profile political figures made new headlines when former President Barack Obama was invited to join Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., while Henry McMaster, expected to become the next Governor of South Carolina, was pressured to resign his membership from The Forest Lake Club in Columbia, S.C.

For weeks, The New York Times reported, the members of Woodmont CC—an exclusive, mostly Jewish country club in the Maryland suburbs of Washington—have been entangled in a bitter dispute over whether to exclude Obama, who has played golf there, because of the policies toward Israel instituted by his Administration.

On January 23, the Times reported, Woodmont’s management sought to put an end to the rancor, sending a letter to members notifying them that it had invited Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, to join as “special members.” Under those terms, the Times reported, the former first couple would pay dues and other fees, but would be spared the $80,000 initiation fee.

“In the current deeply polarized political environment,” the club’s President, Barry Forman, wrote, “it is all the more important that Woodmont be a place where people of varying views and beliefs can enjoy fellowship and recreation in a relaxed environment.”

As President, Mr. Obama played several rounds of golf at the club, which is known for two highly rated 18-hole courses and a newly renovated clubhouse. Obama, who plans to live in Washington for a few more years, then mused to friends as his second term was coming to a close that Woodmont might be a good club to hone his post-presidential game (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/2016/07/speculation-grows-obamas-choice-dc-area-club/).

But Obama then got caught up in the inflamed politics of the Middle East and the American Jewish community, the Times reported. While many members were excited by the prospect of his joining, a vocal minority protested that the club should not admit him because Mr. Obama had clashed with the Israeli government, most recently by refusing to veto a resolution at the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel for its building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Obama “has created a situation in which Israel’s very existence is weakened and possibly threatened,” one member, Faith Goldstein, wrote in a private e-mail to Forman that was published by The Washington Post. “He is not welcome at Woodmont.”

Other members defended Obama and warned that the club was ruining its reputation. Jeffrey Slavin, a member who is mayor of the nearby town of Somerset, Md., resigned from the club in protest after sending an open letter to Forman demanding that Woodmont make Obama welcome (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/2017/01/longtime-member-woodmont-cc-resigns-obama-controversy/).

“The folks opposed to President Obama’s membership should be ashamed of themselves,” Slavin wrote. He then later explained that “My intent was that justice be done, and that the club respond appropriately,” the Times reported.

Woodmont initially declined to comment, saying it did not discuss membership deliberations. But with news of the dispute spreading to Israel and Britain, the Board of Governors and executive committee felt obliged to deal with it, the Times reported. After lengthy debate, Forman said in his letter to members, the club decided to send Obama a formal invitation to join.

In that invitation, the Times reported, Forman invoked the club’s heritage as a place that welcomed Jews when they were excluded by other clubs in the nation’s capital, and noted that Woodmont’s membership had become more diverse in its 103-year history. He also cknowledged the rift that the prospect of Mr. Obama’s membership had caused.

“Given our legacy,” the Times reported that Forman said in the invitation, “it is regrettable that we have now been portrayed as unwelcoming and intolerant, because that is not who we are.”

Obama has not applied for membership, according to Woodmont, and there was no indication he has any plans to do so, the Times reported. The former president has been playing golf in Rancho Mirage, Calif., since he relinquished the presidency to Donald J. Trump on January 20, and a senior adviser for the former president, Eric H. Schultz, did not respond to a phone call from the Times for comment.

While in the White House, the Times reported, Obama played most of his golf at a course at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Occasionally, he tried other private clubs in Washington, some of which were historically exclusive. Some Jewish leaders exulted in the prospect of him joining a club that was started to serve people rejected by those other social bastions, the Times reported.

Thomas R. Nides, a former Deputy Secretary of State who is friendly with Obama, first introduced the President to Woodmont, where Nides is a member, when he played a round in 2015, along with John Shulman, the head of a private equity firm, and one of Obama’s personal aides, the Times reported.

“This whole issue is ridiculous,” Nides told the Times. “The only thing the guy wants to do is to play golf.”

In South Carolina, television station WIS of Columbia, S.C. reported, a petition was circulated in an attempt to pressure soon-to-be-Gov. Henry McMaster to renounce his membership to The Forest Lake Club in Columbia.

The Change.org petition, written by a man named Hamilton Grant, WIS reported, said that “Current South Carolina Lieutenant Governor and Incoming Governor Henry McMaster, has been a member of this all-white club for over 30 years.

“As the Lieutenant Governor prepares to take residency in the State’s Governor’s Mansion,” the petition continued, “McMaster has no plans of quitting and distancing himself from this discriminatory ‘members only’ country club.”

McMaster should not be part of the club, the petition continued, because “it will send the message to South Carolinians and our nation that it is ok for discrimination and racism to continue.”

McMaster is expected to become the next governor of South Carolina, WIS reported, after Gov. Nikki Haley resigns to take over as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations in the Donald Trump administration. Controversy over his membership at Forest Lake is not new, WIS noted, having also come up when McMaster successfully ran against Rep. Bakari Sellers during the lieutenant governor’s race in 2014.

At that time, WIS reported, Sellers asked McMaster to leave the club, saying he wanted McMaster to stand with him against South Carolina’s “old ghosts” of division.

Forest Lake has always claimed that blacks or those of other races are not excluded from membership, WIS reported.

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