Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Country clubs have a longstanding reputation for being incredibly exclusionary - which is accurate, as many were created to keep certain groups of people out or to only include another group. As it stands in 2021, there are reportedly still several country clubs across the globe that do not allow women or those of a specific religious group to join.
Because country clubs are private businesses, they are typically allowed to make the rules as to who is allowed in, and who is not, even if it is a violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws. As a result of a womens’ rights movement, Augusta National Golf Club, home of the famed Masters Tournament, began to allow women members to join in 2012, with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice leading the way as one of only three female members of the club. According to reports, male-only country clubs often change who they allow as members because they are holding major championships and want to keep the professional organizations happy.
Up until a few months ago, Pine Valley Country Club, located in Pine Valley, New Jersey, was reportedly one of the clubs that did not allow female golfers to join the club. It appears the Club did not decide to change their one hundred year plus status as “male only” to include women out of the goodness of their hearts. Instead, they were seemingly forced to do so because the golf course was the focus of a discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit actually arose out of a housing discrimination claim -- the town of Pine Valley allowed only male members of the club to purchase homes in the town. Since women could not become members of the Club -- women were only allowed to play golf on Sunday afternoons as it was -- they could not become homeowners and so the course found itself in a legal battle.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination explicitly states that one cannot deny the sale or rental of housing based on any protected characteristic, including gender. The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights has apparently had their eye on the 23 homes in Pine Valley for years, which culminated on April 30, 2021. The club president wrote that at the Annual Meeting of the Members, they decided to change the bylaws, remove gender specific language, and “move toward inclusion,” which really means: we are moving away from costly lawsuits, so, we will allow women to grace our premises now.
Pine Valley has now accepted the memberships of Annika Sorenstam, one of the best female golfers of all time, as well as two decorated golf amateurs. As someone who was denied the ability to play Pine Valley because of her gender, I am particularly happy to see actual change occurring within the golf world, though there is certainly much more that can be done. It is still frustrating that it took 108 years and a massive lawsuit for the club to change but there is hope for the future of womens’ golf.
Photo Source: https://www.nj.com/news/2021/06/elite-nj-golf-club-that-finally-opened-to-women-was-focus-of-discrimination-investigation.html