Like other businesses caught in the economic downturn, "clubs have had to make adjustments as well," said Jackie Abrams, spokeswoman for National Club Association.

But the association says the outlook may be improving. Last year, the group reported that 47 percent of clubs nationwide delayed facility improvements; that has declined to about 20 percent.

Attracting younger families has been a major focus for country clubs, according to the association. For instance, some have offered discounted rates for people who only want to play tennis or have clubhouse access.

Smeyne, who now belongs to the Suburban Club in Pikesville, remembers taking his son-in-law, a corporate attorney, to play golf at Chestnut Ridge.

"Three hours on the golf course, he was on the phone," he said. "Young people are like that. ... It's a different world today. And country clubs are part of a slower world."

Smeyne, a retired entrepreneur who once owned arcades, Benetton sweater shops and a distribution company that sold jukeboxes, pinball machines and other items, also said that premier public courses offer an alternative for golf enthusiasts.

He grew up in a middle-class family, and joined a country club in the late 1970s, once he could afford the cost.

Since then, Smeyne has seen attitudes change.

"It used to be if you were a member of a country club, you have arrived," he said. "I don't think my friends think that anymore."

Some clubs that have closed in recent years:

•Chestnut Ridge Country Club, Lutherville

•Bonnie View Country Club, Mount Washington area

•Worthington Valley Country Club, Owings Mills