It was nearly 100 years ago — Dec. 8, 1919, to be exact — when 150 gentlemen gathered inside a hotel to discuss the creation of a new golf club in the Philadelphia area.
Sixteen months later, that dream become a reality when Green Valley Country Club officially opened.
Club President Ken Dash said the 100th anniversary is a great achievement.
“It is a testament to the generations of our Green Valley Country Club family, which includes not only our members, but our dedicated staff, to be what I believe is the last remaining member-owned, family-values Jewish country club in the Greater Philadelphia area,” Dash said. “It’s because our past and present members are leaders in the Philadelphia community, volunteering their time and donating their financial resources to both Jewish and nondenominational charities, organizations and causes, which sustain our club. Those values, giving back to the community, are what we embody.”
Green Valley sits on 182 acres in Lafayette Hill, offering indoor and outdoor tennis courts, an Olympic–size heated swimming pool, exercise room, spa and an 18-hole golf course designed by famed golf course architect William Flynn.
While it was founded as a recreational venue for the Jewish community, the club today has many non-Jewish members. Still, the club continues to celebrate its heritage.
Many of its members have multigenerational ties. Michael Kane first started attending as a boy when his father was a member. In 1991, he became a full member himself. To Kane, the club is a second home, which he’s served as president for three years.
His wife, Sue, became a member after the two met more than 30 years ago. She described the club as a place where everyone knows everyone and has made friends there with people of all ages, many of whom she wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. The club is a gathering point for many in the Jewish community.
“It’s a great way to socialize with other members of Philadelphia’s Jewish community,” Sue Kane said. “Not everybody goes to synagogue, but this is a way of being connected to the community through other nonreligious activities.”
Many Jewish country clubs in the Philadelphia area have come and gone over the years.
Rydal in Abington Township closed in the mid-’90s and the Cheltenham-based Ashbourne closed in 2008. Clubs like Philmont in Huntingdon Valley, Radnor Valley in Villanova and White Manor in Malvern have become assimilated, catering to many non-Jewish members. One of the last two Jewish clubs was Meadowlands in Blue Bell, which sold in 2016 and was renamed Bluestone.
Green Valley, meanwhile, remains committed to its sense of Jewish identity, and is the only club left that has a dedicated Jewish community day.
Michael Kane attributes the decline of many clubs to a changing lifestyle culture, with golf’s popularity waning. In addition, clubs have become more inclusive, meaning there isn’t as much of a need for a specifically Jewish club today.
To broaden its own appeal, Green Valley has relaxed its rules regarding women and children in the last 15 years. It’s also expanded its family programing, such as hosting a “drive-in” movie night twice a year, when kids sit in golf carts as they watch a film in the main ballroom. Such activities help the club change with the times and maintain an active membership.
“We have pivoted from a men’s club to a family-oriented club,” Michael Kane said. “The founding fathers might roll over in their graves, but it was the right thing to do.”
The 350 or so members of Green Valley also take pride in the club’s philanthropy efforts. Its annual Jewish community day (formerly called Federation Day) helps to fundraise for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
This year, the June 6 fundraiser will kick off its centennial celebration and support Northeast NORC, a nonprofit operated by Jewish Federation in partnership with Catholic Health Care Services that aids elderly people who want to continue living in their own homes.
Don Greenbaum, a longtime member, will speak at the fundraiser, as will Holocaust survivor Ernie Gross. Greenbaum was part of the military forces who liberated Dachau where Gross was imprisoned.
And while the event will celebrate past achievements, Dash is confident the club has a successful future ahead.
“With the third- and fourth-generation families, and the significant number of millennials who recently joined our club, I have no doubt that our future is bright and our values and proud traditions will be maintained and carried on for years to come,” he said.
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