In Palm Beach, Florida, money whispers.
Celebrity and power, however, command.
So when a New York real estate developer named Donald Trump moved to town and turned an iconic residence into a private club, there were folks who were happy to pay $50,000 to join the fledgling operation.
But not all.
“When I told my husband I paid $50,000 to join Trump’s club, I thought he was going to kill me,” former West Palm Beach resident Dorothy Sullivan told a reporter more than 20 years ago. “He was a golfer and he said, ‘All that money just for a nice place to eat? It doesn’t even have a golf course.’”
At the time it didn’t, although one was in the planning stages.
As the years went on and membership inched closer to capacity, the initiation fee crept ever higher. First $75,000. Then $100,000. Now, with that brash smack-talking developer as the 45th President of the United States, that 50 grand seems like the bargain of the ages.
An (allegedly) rich man in the White House, after all, combines all the aforementioned Palm Beach currencies — money, celebrity and power — into one shiny, if not brassy, coin.
The powers-that-be at Mar-a-Lago bet that folks would pay big money for the few remaining memberships offering proximity to fame and power. They were so, so right. Post-election, the price for those last spots rocketed to $200,000.
So, what exactly does one get for that king’s ransom — and the yearly membership fee, recently hiked from $2,000 to $14,000 per year, and the $2,000 minimum dining requirement?
Well, a possible glimpse of the president, if he’s there, and maybe the chance to exchange a few words with the Leader of the Free World, which alone is worth the ducat to opportunistic types.
There are also privileges at both Trump-branded golf clubs in the area — the Trump International in West Palm Beach and the Trump National in Jupiter, where members can play eight to 12 times a year (at least four but not more than six times at each club). And access to two pools, one saltwater oceanfront and one lakefront; a spa; tennis courts with a resident pro; a croquet court with a resident pro; a Beach Club with grill service; a putting green; a member discount on guest suites in both the oceanfront Beach Club (high season, on the beach, about $700), garden suites and the main house; and dining.
And, of course, the unflappable general manager, Bernd Lembcke.
“I don’t even know what I paid for my membership, it was so long ago,” said longtime Trump pal Patrick Park. “But I remember I was on my plane coming down here to look for a place and I heard about Mar-a-Lago so I called to inquire, and I got Mr. Lembcke on the phone. He said, ‘Come by and I’ll show you around.’ So I did. It’s the best club I ever joined. It has great chefs who take an interest in all things culinary, and Bernd Lembcke is a man of endless talents. He is five-star. The most knowledgeable man in the gastronomic world.”
Memberships are not as easy to obtain as in pre-POTUS years. In addition to the horse-choking initial fork-over, there’s a light vetting process — personal references from existing members and a financial statement — that, for security reasons, is sure to get stricter if POTUS continues to visit.
But any interest will have to wait. The club closed for the summer on Mother’s Day, and the Beach Club is closed for redecoration of the ocean suites. Plans call for putting an airier, beachier look in place of the existing Louis XVI decor.
Because we all know what happened to him when his economy went down le commode.
What isn’t included with a $200K Mar-a-Lago membership:
Like at most private clubs, initiation fees and membership dues at The Mar-a-Lago Club simply buy entry through the front door. These items aren’t included:
- Food — Members pay a minimum dining requirement of $2,000 a year for food and drinks.
- Golf — Members get privileges at the two Trump-branded courses in Palm Beach County but likely still must pay to play.
- A minute with the president — Members probably will see him during the season, but there’s no guarantee.
- Party access — Membership gets you into the club, but you’ll need an invitation and a paid seat to attend fundraising events such as the International Red Cross Ball.
- Spa services — Members can make appointments and pay for services.
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