- The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. Ernest Hemingway
Become a Member of an Exclusive Club
Eight of the world's most exclusive clubs -- can you join?
Is holding its annual banquet on Saturday night.
These groups are not your university’s alumni club. Certain national and international associations and business groups command a high price of entry, high prestige, and members with high power — but they often keep a low profile, if their proceedings or membership rosters are not downright secret. Want to join? If you have to ask, you’re not invited. We can reveal, however, that one of them — the Alfalfa Club — is holding its annual banquet on Saturday night. Head to Washington, D.C. if you want a peek at the invitees.
The Bohemian Club
San Francisco’s Bohemian Club is a private gentleman’s club founded in 1872 originally for bohemian writers, artists, and musicians -- but membership expanded over the years to encompass figures such as Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, as well as other more conservative leaders and prominent businessmen. While the club’s current membership list is not public, what is known is the club’s annual July tradition of two weeks in the woods at Bohemian Grove, in Monte Rio, Calif., a sort of summer camp for CEOs and other wealthy men. It's referred to by the San Francisco Chronicle as a “rowdy bacchanal.” Officially the group’s motto is “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here” from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream -- meaning that members should leave business at home. However, the Washington Post cited one notable exception in 1942 when a planning for the Manhattan Project was held there.
The Belizean Grove
This invite-only women’s club based in New York is thought of as the female answer to the Bohemian Club. Formed in 2001, the Grove meets once a year in Belize or other locations in Central America. When the group met in Colombia in 2011, the New York Times described them as “a sort of Illuminati of the business and political worlds.” Their mission, according to the same article: to put a woman in the White House. It’s called The White House Project. The ranks of international Grovers include directors from Xerox XRX 0.38% , Procter & Gamble PG -0.70% , Nordstrom JWN -1.60% , PetSmart PETM 0.00% , REI REI -0.19% , the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, until she resigned in 2009 during her confirmation hearings, since federal judges may not be part of a club that discriminates based on sex.
The Yellowstone Club
In Big Sky, Mont., lies a 13,600-acre private ski and golf club plus residential community with membership costs that are Rocky Mountain high. A 2009 New York Times article reported a minimum $250,000 to join, with annual dues of around $20,000, plus the cost of a home (currently ranging $1.65 million for a homesite -- $18 million for a ranch). Members of the club have included Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, Peter Chernin, Steve Burke, Bill Gates, bankers Todd Thomson and Robert Greenhill, as well as L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
Since 1954, Bilderberg has been an annual invite-only three-day conference of 120-150 leaders and figures from industry, finance, academia and the media. Two-thirds of the participants hail from Europe and the rest come from the United States. The current steering committee features American members from Microsoft MSFT 0.48% , The Goldman Sachs Group GS -1.34% , Lazard LAZ 0.25% , and Alcoa AA -0.40% , as well as international members from Deutsche Bank AG DB -1.89% , TD Bank TD -0.09% , and Airbus AIR -1.22% . According to the Bilderberg Meetings website, “The conference is a forum for informal discussions about mega-trends and major issues facing the world.” However, not everyone believes the secretive summit is innocuous. “Some outsiders suspect that the Bilderbergers are part of something much more sinister than the world’s most exclusive debate club,” said Julie Tibbott, author of Members Only: Secret Societies, Sects, and Cults Exposed! (Zest Books, 2015). She notes that conspiracy theorists claim the group is a threat to democracy with intentions of organizing an international government: a New World Order. Defenders say the conference was instrumental in creating the European Union.
The China Entrepreneur Club
Meanwhile, in China, The China Entrepreneur Club gathers the country’s top 46 leaders of business, as well as politicians, academics, and others. Formed in 2006, the club stages events and also travels together. According to the BBC, new members are rarely admitted. Members include Guo Guangchang (the Chinese Warren Buffett), club chairman and Lenovo computer founder Liu Chuanzhi, and Alibaba BABA 0.09% ecommerce billionaire Jack Ma, China’s richest man. Chuanzhi says the private nonprofit exists partially to encourage acceptance and trust of the private sector and business. Sustainability is another concern -- a CEC subgroup sponsored by Deng Feng and others is a think tank concerned with fighting pollution, as well as other social and environmental issues.
Augusta National Golf Club
The prestigious 300-or-so member Augusta National Golf Club, which opened in 1933, has had a reputation for extreme exclusivity. African-Americans were not permitted to join until 1990, and women were not allowed until 2012. On top of that, Clifford Roberts, one of the co-founders, is quoted in the New York Times saying, “As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.” (He died in 1977.) Annual membership fees are about $10,000, but even for those who can pony up, it’s still invite-only. Those who make it known they want into the club haven’t got a chance. Present members include Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as well as dozens of the world’s most influential businessmen, CEOs, and bankers, according to The Independent. The first female members were Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore, a partner in the Rainwater, Inc. investment firm.
The invite-only Trilateral Commission is a think tank formed in 1973 by David Rockefeller to improve communications and cooperation between North America, Europe, and Pacific Asia. Other members included diplomat Henry D. Owen, former governor of Pennsylvania William Scranton, Truman and Eisenhower adviser Robert Bowie, atom arms expert Gerard C. Smith, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and George H.W. Bush. It now has about 390 members, according to the group’s website. The organization has drawn the attention of conspiracy theorists, appearing in some 9/11 theories claiming it aims to install a new world order. The commission, for its part, offers up presentations from its meetings and publications on its website.