Newcastle open to everyone, but not to anyone

NEWCASTLE - Here's the thing about the grueling sport of golf: If you're not careful, you can get the pomegranate vinaigrette all over your mid-length, non-denim Bermuda shorts.

Pay heed to the "mid-length" part because you cannot, even under emergency circumstances, get into the Wooly Toad Cigar Bar at The Golf Club at Newcastle if your hemline has crept too far northward.

The dress code is understandable. After all, if you're running a "public" golf course on the Eastside, the last thing you want to see is too much of the public.

Make no mistake: Newcastle - the "world-class" golf, cognac and testosterone ranch that recently celebrated its first year of hoity-toityness on a bluff just this side of Cougar Mountain - is open to everybody. But not just anybody.

If it looks like a country club, smells like a country club and sells $125 snifters of Remy Martin like a country club, it's a country club. Unless it's Newcastle, the only country club in America that's still in the closet. You've seen it from the freeway: Acres of greens surrounding a gleaming hilltop clubhouse on the former site of some coal mines and - well, there's really no world-class way to put this - a garbage dump.

I'll accept the experts' word that the Newcastle course is good, but not great. Like many Newcastle patrons, the closest I came to playing it was picking up a stray mahogany tee in the parking lot. So my impressions have less to do with the greens than the way they're served - with all the high-fat trimmings. Such as:

-- A 44,000-square-foot clubhouse. With rich wood interiors, fancy wainscotting and golly-gee views, the sprawling mansion feels as if it has been time-warped straight out of some turn-of-the-century English colonial town. Close your eyes and you can imagine the ol' chaps up in the bar tossing back Dewars and plotting ways to subjugate the locals.

Wait a sec. That might not have been our imagination, but an actual meeting of big-shot lobbyists on . . .

-- "The Prestwick Terrace." Only plaid-pants golf people could assign such a stiff-lip name to an outdoor canopy that's really nothing more than the foo-foo equivalent of your basic big blue tarp. Serves the same purpose: Keeps rain and riff-raff out of wedding receptions and other money-is-no-object "galas."

-- All the amenities to survive a challenging round of golf. Immaculate greens. Spotless tees. A posh pro shop. Golf-bag valets. Granite restroom countertops. Heated toilet seats . . .

-- World-class greens fees. If you have to ask, you can't afford it. They ring in at $167.40, tax included, for 18 holes. For the same money, you could play 136 holes at Jefferson Park, a public place without the prosciutto-wrapped prawns. But who has time for that?

-- The Calcutta Grill. On hot summer nights, you'll find enough spaghetti-strapped females on the patio (10), chardonnays on the wine list (28) and smog in the suburban lowlands to make you think you're in L.A. The food? Average at best. Expect to drop about a hundred on dinner for two, sans wine. But look at the bright side: That includes a dessert serenade by the house bagpiper, who appears on a bluff at sunset and plays "Taps" in memory of your credit line.

-- The aforementioned Wooly Toad. Membership to the exclusive cigar club will set you back $500 a year, including a private, climate-controlled, humidity-regulated "cigar locker" and priority reservations for "cigar dinners." Not to mention all the puffin' time you want in a wood-paneled good ol' boys clubhouse "reminiscent of Britain's finest manors, where aristocratic taste and privacy prevail."

Puget Sound aristocrats. Lounging in leather among their peers. Shooting billiards and the breeze. Making deals. Our community has embraced this. Newcastle Developer Scott Oki, a nouveau riche techie, is often praised as a modern "visionary."

When regular people get rich, they've gotta have some regular fun. Nothing wrong with that. This place is upper crust and makes no apologies. Does it need to? Depends on how you feel about privately public golf courses. And about what our region has become. Some will spend a day up here, "where the air is thin and the steaks are thick," and want to lose your lunch. Others will make a reservation.

Better call early. "Joining opportunities are limited" for the Cigar Club, Newcastle insists. But take heart, all you underlings striving to get your lips around one of those $28 stogies. All of those in the New Castle eventually must face the Big Rule of life, golf and Wooly Toad membership: Sooner or later - no matter what you drive, where you smoke or how you putt - everybody croaks.