In the past few years, several new golf courses have been built in South Jersey, and last year, a new private golf club opened in Avondale, Chester County.
Existing clubs in the Philadelphia region - some 100 years old - are highly rated, but have been full for decades and have long waiting lists. Now, they are being supplemented by new upscale golf clubs in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery Counties and in South Jersey.
Bucks County's private clubs - Doylestown Country Club, which opened in 1916, and Yardley Country Club, which opened in 1924 - were filled long ago, as were the prestigious Main Line clubs such as Merion and Aronomink and the legendary Pine Valley in Clementon, N.J.
An explosion of interest in golf and the increasing number of women golfers - from 4.5 million in 1986 to more than 6 million in 1998 - are also factors in the building of new courses, according to Judy Thompson, of the National Golf Foundation. Junior golfers, probably spurred by the charismatic Tiger Woods, also have increased, from 1.8 million to 2.5 million during the same period.
In a study released in January, the foundation said golfers' spending had almost tripled since 1986 - from $7.8 billion to $22 billion in 1997.
None of that comes as a surprise to the founders of Lookaway.
``We did demographic studies which said this area could support four golf clubs. There's a lot of development here and an awful lot of $500,000 homes,'' said Bruce McKissock, 55, a lawyer who, with three neighbors from Carversville, started Lookaway's planning.
Lookaway, an equity club where memberships that sold for $25,000 about two years ago now go for more than $90,000, reached its 229-member limit a year ago - long before it opened. Jericho, a less expensive non-equity club where a single membership goes for about $14,000, has more than 400 members.
The clubs will be pastoral playgrounds for people who commute to jobs in Philadelphia, Princeton and New York City. Fleeing cities and older suburbs, these upper-income professionals have transformed the region's outer suburbs into a near-equivalent of the Main Line, said James Hughes, dean of the school of planning at Rutgers University.
He said the two Bucks County clubs, and others such as Stonewall, Inniscrone and Bellewood in Chester County, indicate a steady build-up of wealth in the region. The roaring economy of the 1990s has created more and more families with the wealth to pay for expensive hobbies, he said.
Michael Ontko, deputy director of regional planning for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, said Central Bucks had pockets of high incomes. ``At the municipal or county level, the figures become diluted. But in those pockets, there are some staggering incomes,'' he said.
Robert E. Moore, Bucks County's planning director, said Central Bucks had grown at nearly three times the rate of the county's overall growth since 1992.
``It's a mixed bag of doctors and lawyers from as far north as New York,'' Moore said.
Lookaway will boast the oldest building being used as a golf clubhouse in the nation, said architect J. Robertson Cox. A renovated 1752 fieldstone farmhouse was used at the center of the clubhouse complex.
Jericho National, with sweeping vistas of the area where George Washington and his troops camped before the battle of Trenton, was built by Nicholas Karabots, owner of the Kappa Group publishing firm in Fort Washington. Jericho, with more members, will see more play and will be more of a social club. A $5 million clubhouse, with dining rooms, locker rooms and a large wing for banquets and weddings is under construction.
Lookaway is more secluded and will be strictly for golf. It has no swimming pool or tennis courts, unlike traditional country clubs.
While Lookaway will be for members only, Jericho will have a golf learning center open to the public, with a practice range and classrooms.
In Chester County, the private Inniscrone Golf Club in Avondale opened last fall, and the $15 million Bellewood Golf Club in North Coventry Township will open in June.
A number of private courses have opened in the eight-county Philadelphia region in the past several years, including Deerfield Country Club and Olde York Country Club, both in Burlington County, N.J., and Blue Bell Country Club and Talamore at Oak Terrace in Ambler, both in Montgomery County, according to the Golf Foundation.
And last year, one of the most elegant golf clubs of all opened in Princeton. Jasna Polana, which means ``bright meadows'' in Polish, was built on the 230-acre estate of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, widow of J. Seward Johnson, scion of the Johnson & Johnson family. It is a tournament players club - the first in the Philadelphia-New York area and the 18th in the nation - developed and managed by the Tournament Players Club network.
Some of the new clubs are carving a new trend in providing overnight accommodations for guests of members.
Bellewood will cater to corporations with two guest suites and a bed-and-breakfast for 16 to 18 people, said Joe Doran, general manager.
Inniscrone this summer will build its clubhouse and two guest cottages with 16 rooms, said John Trickett, marketing director. Most of Jasna Polana's members are businesses and corporations.
Stonewall Golf Club, which opened in Elverson, Chester County, in 1993, also has overnight accommodations.
Paul Mauer, Stonewall's general manager, said the idea for the club was simple.
``The guys who built this club were tired of overcrowding, the rules, the committees - we don't have any committees here - the politics, the waiting on the first tee, the five-hour rounds, Tuesday ladies day and Thursdays junior golf day,'' he said.
``Here, men and women can play any time. Our only rule is you have to play no more than a four-hour round, all walking, no carts,'' he said.
Although it just opened with 420 members, Jericho already has a waiting list, said Ron Reed, director of operations. ``It's incredible. This place is really ripe for it. The market is definitely here,'' he said.
Baby boomers, getting too old for contact sports, and earning good money, make up most of the membership of the new clubs.
At Lookaway, the average member's age is 51.
``Basically, it's your 40- to 55-year-old men wanting a place to play that's not overly crowded,'' said Doran, of Bellewood.
Greg Farrow, 49, head pro at the four-year-old Deerwood Country Club in Westhampton, Burlington County, N.J., had another explanation for the soaring popularity of the sport.
``Golf is the only game I know where you can get better as you get older.''