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April 7, 2014

Boys-Only Golf Clubs

by Anne Paddock

With the Master’s Tournament taking place at the Augusta National Golf Club this week, the conversation surrounding boys-only golf clubs is heating up again. Although Augusta left the dark ages and officially joined the modern world by inviting two females (Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore) in August, 2012 to join its estimated 300 member male base, some say Augusta still has a long way to go. After all, women represent less than 1 percent of club membership at the well-known Georgian golf club.

The wheels of change turn slowly in this country and although the golf world seems to be moving at a putter’s pace when it comes to boys-only golf clubs, the movement is in the right direction. This past March, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews sent a letter to its 2,500 members urging them to abandon the 260-year-old policy of male-only membership and allow women to join what many consider to be the “Home of Golf” in St. Andrews, Scotland – the matter of which will be voted on by ballot in September, 2014. Given that one of the most prestigious tournaments in professional golf – The Open Championship (also called the British Open) is hosted by the R & A (the governing authority of golf throughout the world except the US and Mexico), who works jointly with the United States Golf Association (the governing body of golf in the US) to determine the Rules of Golf, chances are the ballot will pass, albeit by a slim margin. The wheels may turn slowly but in the winds of change, we find our true direction.

canstockphoto16276309Still, there are golf clubs out there that don’t invite or admit women simply because they are women, including Burning Tree in Bethesda, Maryland, who counts a Supreme Court Justice (Antonin Scalia) and Speaker of the House (John Boehner) as members. Discounting the reported cost (an initiation fee of $75,000 and annual $6,000 dues), how can public figures interpreting our laws and two steps away from the presidency justify membership in a club that discriminates against anyone based on sex? How can any man raising daughters (Scalia has four and Boehner has two) justify membership in a club that only allows women on the property for four hours on a single Saturday before Christmas to shop for their men in the pro shop? As if shopping for men is a God-given gender attribute assigned to women.

Critics say that private clubs should be allowed to decide who they want as members and there is some merit to that argument but I would argue that these clubs – and especially clubs like Burning Tree which Forbes magazine calls a “power-broker haven” contribute to the exclusion of women in political and other professional circles. Men charged with interpreting our laws (Scalia) or making our laws (Boehner) should not be members of these boys-only clubs because clubs that exclude members based on sex are simply unjust and send the wrong message to both sexes. It’s not just about golf; it’s about life.

Step back for a moment and try to imagine if women created a glass ceiling in this country where men only earned 77 cents for every dollar women earned; or that of the top Fortune 500 companies, only 23 (less than 5%) would have male CEO’s. Then think about Congress where 79 out of 435, or 18% would be men, or the Senate where 20 out of 100 would be men. Men would be fighting their way in and would certainly put forth the argument that any private golf club not allowing men was discriminatory and unjust. Elected and appointed female public officials would be called out if they joined or were given honorary membership to any women-only golf club. Men might say “We’re better golfers” and women would reply “We don’t care. You’re men and we will escort you off the property if you so much as step on our driveway.” Would most women send that message to their sons?

My father was an avid golfer as were my brothers. When I expressed an interest in playing, I remember being told I was only allowed to play golf at my parent’s country club on certain days and only if I wore a skirt although men and boys were allowed to wear pants. Even at age 10, I knew the policy was hypocritical and therefore declined because I would sooner die than give in to their rules and be seen wearing a skirt at that age. Dress policies are fine..but they need to be applied equally to both sexes because when they aren’t, an unhealthy message is being sent. In my case: rules apply to boys and girls differently – and, it doesn’t matter if the girl is better (witness Sandra Day O’Connor who had a 12 handicap and was not invited to join Burning Tree). And, that is the same message that boys-only golf clubs send.

In the game of golf, there are times when the players in the group ahead can’t find their balls, slowing the game down for the rest of us. They may cause a delay but in the end, the game will finish. canstockphoto16282355

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