SOCIETY had been the pioneer in the promotion of sports. We have seen that in the middle of the century the more wealthy had been almost the only people with the leisure and means to enjoy them. As the opportunity to play games became available for a wider public in the 1890's, the world of fashion tended more and more to favor those activities of which the expense definitely excluded the common man. The same impulse that motivated the rivalry over elaborate entertainment and opera boxes was responsible for an attitude toward sport in which conspicuous waste rather than simple enjoyment became the general rule. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., determined to win the position in society denied his father, made sport his means of entrée into that exclusive world. He sailed yachts and fought his way to the proud post of commodore of the New York Yacht Club; he took up coaching and drove his four-in-hand in the Newport parade; he introduced polo and founded the Westchester Polo Club.
The days were indeed far distant when society, in the person of members of the old Knickerbocker Club, had taken up baseball and endeavored to keep it an exclusive pastime. "Naturally," wrote a correspondent of Outing in 1894, describing the sporting life of fashionable Philadelphia, "since baseball is so much of a professional game, it can hardly come under the head of what we recognize as out-of-door recreation." But society could still approve archery and tennis. Tournaments in these lawn games remained social functions. When the clubs of archers, merry bowmen, or toxophilites that made up the National Archery Association had their annual meeting in 1897 on the grounds of the Chicago White Sox, band music and refreshments still contributed to the enjoyment of a select gathering. The tennis matches at Newport, despite increasing interest in a sport which had become so much more active and competitive, were also a festival of the fashionable world. As late as 1886 the Tribune Book of Open-Air Sports complacently stated that lawn tennis remained "the game of polite society, essentially one for ladies and gentlemen.
Yachts and horses were expensive enough to be proof against any alarming tendency toward democratization, and society was enthusiastic over these artistocratic pastimes. There was a great revival of yachting, marked by renewal of the America's Cup races. The wealthy engaged in lively competition both in the regattas for smaller boats (the one-design classes had been introduced) sponsored by such organizations as the New York Yacht Club, and in the purchase of expensive and elaborate ocean-going yachts. In the same way, ownership of a stable of thoroughbreds became highly fashionable, and the very rich extended their patronage as never before to the turf. The exclusive American Jockey Club was founded, an ultrafashionable course laid out at Jerome Park, and the Kentucky Derby became an annual feature of an invigorated racing calendar. 27 The common man could watch the races, and the gambling fraternity made a profitable living from betting on them, but only the very wealthy could support a stable.
The horse was glorified in other ways. Fox-hunting in the English manner was taken up by clubs on Long Island, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and in Virginia and Maryland. In 1885 the National Horse Show was instituted, to become one of the outstanding social events of the year. There was a beginning of polo, introduced in 1876, at Westchester and Newport. Coaching was imported from England, a further refinement of the fashionable driving that already crowded the roads of such resorts as Tuxedo and Lenox with expensively turned out dogcarts, buckboards, landaus, and phaetons.
The annual coaching parade in New York was one of the city's most colorful shows. Four-in-hand drags and tally-hos bowled down Fifth Avenue in the crisp autumn air, the guards gaily winding their horns, while crowds lined the street to watch their triumphant progress. The coaches were painted pink, blue, or dark-green with under-carriages of some sharply contrasting shade, and the beautifully matched and carefully groomed horses wore artificial flowers on their throat-latches. Society rode proudly atop these splendid equipages, the men in striped waistcoats and silk toppers, the ladies holding gay parasols over their immense picture hats.
For the fullest enjoyment of these varied sports, a new institution sprang into being in the 1880's -- the country club. The first of the genus is believed to have been the Brookline Country Club, near Boston, but it was soon followed by the Westchester Country Club, the Essex Country Club, the Tuxedo Club, the Philadelphia Country Club, the Meadowbrook Hunt Club, and the Country Club of Chicago. Those near the shore promoted yachting and sailing; others were a center for hunting, ponyraces, and polo. Coaching parties drove out from the city for sports events, dances, teas, and the annual hunt ball.