News & Opinion

If Pine Valley can change, why not other male-only clubs?

Pine Valley 17th hole
The 17th hole at Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey.

Pine Valley finally drops ban on female members, opening door for Butler National to follow and perhaps become big-event site again

When Augusta National decided to include women as part of the club’s membership in 2012, the news reverberated beyond golf.

For years, the club, which hosts the annual Masters Tournament, had undergone scrutiny from many media members and the public about why women weren’t welcome as members. Augusta National, by its actions, effectively shrugged its shoulders and gave the impression that it would act when it thought the time was appropriate.

Of course, what officials really were saying is that if critics simply would shut up and not make it to be such a big deal, then the club could get it done. Augusta National did not want any decision to appear to have been made because of outside pressure.  

Martha Burk, the leader of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, planned a protest in 2003 to try to convince Hootie Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National, and his members that women should be part of the club. The protest fizzled. No more than 50 activists showed up, according to news reports.

Change finally occurred Aug. 20, 2012, when Billy Payne, who succeeded Johnson as Augusta National chairman six years earlier, announced that Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state, and Darla Moore, a South Carolina banker, had become the club’s first female members.

It was done. Finally, Augusta National, the biggest domino, had fallen. At so many other clubs, advances on social issues received little, if any, fanfare. Though the changes were important in advancing diversity and inclusion in golf, they meant very little practically.

So, when it was reported late last week that Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club, a perennial No. 1 in the major magazine course rankings, had decided to allow female members, I had to wonder, What’s the big deal?

Golf observers could conclude that it’s about time, and leave it at that. But I’m a 60-something white male, and my 21st-century suffragette daughter always reminds me that because I come from white-male privilege, I really can’t understand the plight of women or individuals of color.

So, in deference to my daughter, I agree that it’s a step, but to what end? So, Pine Valley can open its doors to two or three women and suggest that the club is inclusive. I just don’t get all the media attention or the buzz on social media.  

I’m glad that Pine Valley finally got it right, but let’s not go overboard. It was a long time coming, but beyond the fact that the century-old George Crump-Harry Colt design is one of the world’s top courses, the adoration should stop there.

If Butler National, in Chicago’s western suburbs, were to allow female members, that change would be a big deal. The PGA Tour’s Western Open stopped each year in the Chicago area, and Butler National served as host in 1974-90.

Though Butler National was one of the best courses on the PGA Tour, the fact that it was a men’s-only club finally prompted the Tour to leave a venue that discriminates against women. The tournament relocated to nearby Cog Hill for 16 years before being renamed and reformed as part of the FedEx Cup playoff series.

During the past 30-plus years, many golf leaders, including the USGA, which eagerly wants a Midwestern venue in a rotation for its U.S. Open, has tried to persuade Butler National to change its membership policy. Each time, the membership has thumbed its noses to allowing women into the club.

To understand the lengths to which Butler National goes to keep women out of its club, consider this story from a decade or so ago: A substitute UPS driver was making the rounds and stopped at Butler National to drop off and pick up packages. She drove right in, did her job and drove off.  

The next day, the UPS pick-up/drop-off site was relocated to outside of the club gates.

If Butler National would take the necessary step to open its club to women, then the Western Golf Association, the hosts of the BWM Championship, the PGA of America and the USGA could look to bring another major championship to one of the best courses in the Midwest.

Now, that would be a story worth writing about.

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