August 22, 2012

In contrast, why did it wait 22 more years to let in any women, even shrugging off a frenzied 2002 campaign by The New York Times? (The comic high point of more than 40 NYT denunciations of Augusta National between July and November of 2002 may have been an editorial calling upon Tiger Woods to employ his unquestioned moral authority and boycott the Masters.)

The contrast is striking because race discrimination was pervasive in American country clubs up through the 1990 Shoal Creek imbroglio. (It’s not a coincidence that Rice was previously admitted to Shoal Creek.)

Contrary to all the press accounts presenting Augusta National as a last relic of the Bad Old Days, all-male golf clubs have never been common in the US. The great majority of private golf courses in the US are part of country clubs that were sexually integrated from their grand opening.

Most country clubs were intended for married couples with children or grandchildren, providing a pool, tennis courts, and a ballroom for dances and wedding receptions. Because country clubs were intended to provide members’ heirs with Wodehousian settings conducive to young romance, admission was traditionally restricted to those who belonged to the same endogamous mating pool: Protestants with Protestants, Jews with Jews, and so forth.

In contrast with country clubs, golf clubs without social amenities are less typical. Men-only golf clubs are particularly rare in the US.

Contrary to assumptions about cultural backwardness, men’s golf clubs are typically found either in wealthy metropolitan areas (Chicago has four) or upscale resorts.

New men’s-only clubs tend to attract younger, more serious golfers. New clubs continue to open, such as Black Sheep outside Chicago, which proclaims: “The Club is also defined by what it does not have….No swimming pool. No tennis courts. No white-table-cloth [sic] dining room or social calendar. And no kitchen. Just a bar and a bartender.”

While men’s-only golf clubs are unusual, they represent an impressive fraction of the architecturally finest golf courses, such as top-rated Pine Valley outside Philadelphia.

There is one women-only golf club in North America, the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto. It opened in 1924, a year after the Women’s National Golf Club on Long Island, which went out of business during the Depression. Despite this week’s headlines, golf was most fashionable among women in The Great Gatsby era.


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