The Links is located on 36 East 62nd Street in New York City between Madison and Park avenues. It is housed in a stunning four-story Georgian townhouse with a mansard roof that was built in 1890. The Architectural Record describes the club in 1917 as showing "the effects of quiet breeding, traditional elegance, of considered good taste." Like many of the elite clubs in the world, there is no sign announcing that this building houses the Links. There is no grand entrance and no grand staircase. In fact, truth be told, I walked right past the Links on the first try in my attempt to find it. A small stairway leads you down to an entry door located below street level, then you enter through a set of double doors. As you open the first door and close it behind you, you are in a small vestibule. You then open another door and enter this private sanctuary. It is as if standing between these two doors you have entered the transporter on Star Trek. Or, if you are from a different generation, if feels like being transported to Hogwarts in Harry Potter. You have just entered a different world.
This particular part of Manhattan is home to many private social clubs, among them, the Grolier, Lotos, Union League, Union, Metropolitan, Yale, Harvard, Century, Cornell, Princeton, Colony, Knickerbocker, Cosmopolitan, Vassar, University, Harmonie, Brook and of course the Links. Each club was founded with a different constituency in mind, the Links being formed by prosperous golfers. While New York City is probably the most meritocratic city on the planet, it has a whole "underworld" of these social clubs that most people never see.
As you enter you are greeted by a gentleman wearing a green jacket with black lapels and a "links man" logo on the sleeve. All the employees at the Links wear this sharp uniform, many with a bow-tie. If there were a place in the golf world where they would actually take your ticket and punch it, this is it. Entering here, you have arrived. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my ticket with me so the manager just gave me a suspicious stare. You know the type of stare that says, "You don't belong here, do you?" Fortunately, I was wearing the requisite jacket and tie and got the members name right, so he let me stay.
Macdonald's friends were the powerful and elite of New York during this era including Charles H. Sabin (President of Guaranty Trust), Harry Payne Whitney (a sportsmen and man of leisure), James Stillman (President of National City Bank), William C. Potter (a future President of Guaranty Trust) and Frank L. Crocker (a prominent attorney). Like many private clubs, The Links Club was started because someone couldn't get in - in this case a friend of C.B. Macdonald couldn't get into the Brook Club so C.B. quit that club and started The Links as a place where those that played at Shinnecock and The National could meet in the city.
The Links is a U.S.G.A. type-two sanctioned club. Although not widely known, you don't have to have a golf course to be a U.S.G.A. golf club. The requirement is merely that you must have a reasonable and regular opportunity for the members to play golf with each other. A type-two club is one whose "members are affiliated or known to one another via a business, fraternal, ethnic or social organization." Given its historic founding, the U.S.G.A. regularly holds its annual dinner at the Links and every current president of the U.S.G.A. is given an honorary membership during their tenure.
The Links is the archetypal private club. After you go through the double doors you are in the entrance lobby, and on a cold day the fireplace will likely be crackling to warm you up. In the rear of the building on the first floor is The Oak Room - a private dining room. You have already sensed that you are somewhere special by this point, although the best is yet to come. Since the Links is not the type of place where a guest walks around snapping pictures, I will try to describe as vividly as possible the look, feel and ambiance of the place.
The Links has sufficiently high-quality artwork hanging, that if it were not a private club, it could serve as a museum or gallery. Also hanging in the library is a Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, flanked by portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Captain James Lawrence. Lawrence is the famous American naval officer who is known for his dying command, "Don't Give Up The Ship". There are also portraits of British military officers throughout the room.
The library also has clusters of leather chairs and sofas spread around. In each cluster is a discrete "buzzer", should you require service. When seated near the fireplace on one of the green leather sofas, on each side are eight foot long hanging fabric cords with tassels on the ends that you pull for service. Either touch the buzzer or pull the tassel and a server will appear through a hidden passage or door. The room also has two little writing tables with ink wells and a selection of high quality Links stationary and envelopes, should you need to dash off a quick note. There is no recognition on the part of the Links that we are in the 21st century. The club doesn't acknowledge that people no longer sit down at writing tables and dash off a little note on Links Club letterhead in our modern era of instant messaging and cell phones. Being somewhat of a Luddite myself though, I like it.
Located at the far end of the library is a large table that holds various golf and sporting books and magazines including Yale Magazine, Harvard Magazine, and most importantly, lest we forget where we are, there are copies of the last three years Social Register easily accessible should the need arise to check someone's pedigree on short notice.
The Links has 1,000 members, 500 of whom are non-resident, consistent with its national charter. Membership is by invitation only. I looked through the current membership directory and on page thirty-three alone recognized the names of three current or ex-CEOs. I'm not stupid enough to publish the names of the members out of respect for their privacy and because I would like to get invited back, but it is a tempting thought. Suffice it to say, like the founding members, they remain well-heeled and connected.
As I was sitting in the second floor bar talking about the club, its tradition and its membership rules, the board-certified WASP who was my host mentioned that it takes five members to sponsor a new member. Things were going well and he asked what clubs I was a member of. Note the presumption in the plural nature of the question among this crowd; it is assumed you are a member of multiple clubs. I sensed an opening; that if I was affiliated with some good clubs, maybe he was considering sponsoring me. This would be the ultimate coup for me. A home run. A grand slam. When I mentioned that I am a member of Sam's Club, The Hair Club for Men and the mile-high club, I saw the blue-blood drain out of his face.
One always has a keen sense of where you are in the social hierarchy when you are at the Links. It is clear you are in the pantheon.
As the club history describes it, the Links is "ageless", "old fashioned", has "traditional elegance", likes "quiet breeding", and is "of considered good taste", and "timeless".