Inside the secretive world of America’s men-only golf clubs

On April 30, the members of Pine Valley Golf Membership in New Jersey, which has a course routinely rated as the easiest in the USA, voted to lastly permit ladies to affix their membership — a mere 108 years after its founding. Beforehand, ladies had solely been allowed on the membership as friends of members, and in the event that they needed to truly play golf, they might solely achieve this on a Sunday afternoon.

In an e mail to members, who embrace Jack Nicklaus (and Arnold Palmer and Sean Connery earlier than their deaths), Pine Valley membership president Jim Davis mentioned “the way forward for golf should transfer towards inclusion,” including that the change places the membership “on the correct facet of historical past.” Pine Valley will now start the method of figuring out ladies candidates for membership and is anticipated to have its first feminine members by the top of 2021.

It’s onerous to consider that within the twenty first century there was even a single personal golf membership that also excluded ladies from membership. Augusta Nationwide, an 88-year-old establishment not precisely identified for its ahead pondering — it solely admitted its first black member in 1990 — started admitting ladies almost a decade in the past.

Pine Valley Golf Club, NJ
Pine Valley Golf Membership, NJ
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But it surely’s completely authorized to discriminate. As a result of these golf equipment are personal, fairly than public organizations, federal legal guidelines can’t regulate them or their membership insurance policies. The US Supreme Court docket has additionally upheld the correct of personal membership golf equipment beneath the First Modification, terming it as “expressive affiliation,” and any modifications which have come about, for instance, permitting in members of colour, are normally on account of public strain.

Right now, there are regarded as lower than a dozen male-only golf golf equipment remaining in the USA, with a mixed membership estimated at fewer than 5,000. And remarkably, there are 4 within the Chicago space.

Butler Nationwide, in Chicago, In poor health., is one. Shaped as a males’s membership in 1972, it hosted the PGA Tour’s Western Open from 1974-1990. However its men-only membership coverage has precluded it from staging a PGA or USGA event ever since. In the summertime of 1990, the PGA Tour introduced new pointers, forbidding any membership with discriminatory membership insurance policies to host their tournaments. It left Butler with a alternative: Let ladies in or lose the Western Open. It selected the latter.

The final time the membership’s members held a vote on admitting ladies was in 2012 — the identical 12 months Augusta Nationwide admitted ladies to their membership — they usually determined in opposition to it. “It’s simply what we wish, and we’ve the correct to make that call,” mentioned Butler President Ed Gustafson. “The membership has spoken clearly.”

Sean Connery, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were all members of Pine Valley, which only last month announced it would start accepting female members.
Pine Valley counts Jack Nicklaus (center) as a member. Sean Connery (left) and Arnold Palmer (proper) have been additionally members earlier than their deaths.
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Whereas five-time main winner Phil Mickelson loves the course at Butler Nationwide, he has spoken out about their admissions coverage.

“At the moment, exclusion simply isn’t the correct solution to go about it,” he mentioned in 2017. “I’d like to see them be extra inclusive of their insurance policies, however it’s not for me to intervene in any personal membership. However it’s disappointing as a result of that can stop it from holding some huge event at a very spectacular venue.”

Thirty miles or so north is Outdated Elm Membership in Highland Park, house to a different critically acclaimed course and an perspective greatest described as “conventional.” With an clientele of CEOs and retirees, it’s joked that the age of the typical member at Outdated Elm is deceased. Butler Nationwide and Outdated Elm are in sharp distinction to the opposite two men-only golf equipment within the area: Bob-O-Hyperlink Golf Membership, additionally in Highland Park, and Black Sheep Golf Membership in Sugar Grove. Opened in 1916, Bob-O-Hyperlink has a web site that provides nothing to the curious customer, not even contact particulars. All that exists on the positioning is a log-in field for members.

And but, Bob-O-Hyperlink is thought for being relaxed relating to different sorts of guidelines and laws. There is no such thing as a costume code, for instance. You possibly can even play together with your shirt off if you happen to really feel so inclined. And it’s mentioned additionally they have a suggestion field for members — however it’s within the pond by the 2nd gap.

WOMEN NOT INCLUDED: There are thought to be about a dozen men-only golf clubs left in the US, including Pine Valley, which will start allowing female members at the end of 2021. Above are some of the known ones.
WOMEN NOT INCLUDED: There are regarded as a few dozen men-only golf golf equipment left within the US, together with Pine Valley, which is able to begin permitting feminine members on the finish of 2021. Above are among the identified ones.

Black Sheep Golf Course, in the meantime, stands other than different golf equipment in that it’s utterly with out frills. There’s no swimming pool, eating room or tennis court docket — only a golf course (with none flowers or timber) a bar and a grill, which members pay as much as $85,000 in initiation charges for the privilege of having fun with. Ladies, in the meantime, can’t even use the 300-yard street that leads as much as the clubhouse. In the event that they need to drop off their husbands, they’ve to go away them on the principle street and allow them to stroll up.
Members name it the Stroll of Disgrace.

LINKS journal dubbed Chicago’s scene the “final bastion of golf Neanderthalia,” however it’s not the one space the place men-only golf golf equipment proceed to flourish.

On Lengthy Island, NY, lies Backyard Metropolis Golf Membership, which nonetheless has the identical all-male membership coverage it did when it opened in 1899. In a 2018 assertion, the membership’s president, Brian Nelsen, defended the membership’s strategy: “The Backyard Metropolis Golf Membership has a 119-year custom as a personal membership which accepts male members. As a personal membership, any rule change have to be voted on by its membership. Though our entrance necessities could change sooner or later, we don’t at the moment have plans to alter our standards for membership.”

Tony Romo may be on the waiting list at Preston Trail — where Mickey Mantle (middle) once played nude. Jordan Spieth (right) wasn't allowed there until he turned 21, according to club rules.
Tony Romo could also be on the ready checklist at Preston Path — the place Mickey Mantle (center) as soon as performed nude. Jordan Spieth (proper) wasn’t allowed there till he turned 21, in response to membership guidelines.
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In Dallas, Texas, in the meantime, you’ll discover Preston Path, a membership that’s been described as equal elements golf membership and frat home. Ladies aren’t allowed and nor are under-21s, as native prodigy Jordan Spieth came upon when he was youthful. Regardless of having performed in skilled occasions whereas nonetheless in highschool and being the youngest ever member of the US Presidents Cup group, Spieth was denied the chance to take to the course till he lastly performed it on his twenty first birthday. (The membership is much more relaxed about its costume code. Mickey Mantle is claimed to have performed a complete spherical there bare, utilizing his Cadillac as a golf cart.)


Preston Path has a rumored initiation price of anyplace between $125,000 and $250,000 and new members require approvals that always take 5 years to be granted. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has dabbled in taking part in skilled golf, is claimed to be on the checklist — a reality that’s not possible to verify, as a result of almost all male-only golf equipment forbid their members from speaking.

Additionally they limit their members and friends from utilizing cellphones (other than in strictly designated areas) and from disseminating any pictures of their golf equipment on social media.

Backyard Metropolis Golf Membership’s rule reads: “Cell telephones and related digital communication units should not permitted anyplace on the golf course or Membership grounds, apart from in automobiles within the parking zone.”

Presidents Nixon (left) and Eisenhower ride a cart at men-only Burning Tree Club where they were both members.
Presidents Nixon (left) and Eisenhower journey a cart at men-only Burning Tree Membership the place they have been each members.
The LIFE Image Assortment/Getty Photos

It’s shocking simply how far some golf equipment will go to protect their all-male standing. Burning Tree Membership in Bethesda, Md., as an illustration, would fairly pay extra tax than permit ladies to affix. In 1989, the Maryland Court docket of Appeals dominated that the membership didn’t qualify for a similar tax breaks as equally sized golf equipment within the space due to its membership coverage.

The web result’s that Burning Tree is now reported to pay an extra $150,000 in taxes annually (or about the price of two new memberships).

Miklós Breitner, golf marketing consultant and founding father of Golf Enterprise Monitor, mentioned, “on a really fundamental stage, ignoring ladies makes no monetary sense. Forbes has discovered that ladies management or affect 85 % of shopper spending and in the USA alone the buying energy of ladies is anyplace between $5 trillion and $15 trillion. Golf golf equipment may actually do with a few of that, particularly post-pandemic.”

Legend has it that Burning Tree got here into being when 4 male golfers received caught behind a bunch of feminine gamers on the close by Chevy Chase Golf Membership and determined, there after which, to discovered a membership the place ladies weren’t allowed on the property, but alone tee it up.

Burning Tree denied former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor entry to the club.
Burning Tree denied former Supreme Court docket justice Sandra Day O’Connor entry to the membership.

Practically a century later, Burning Tree boasts many presidents as previous members, together with FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George HW Bush — however nonetheless no ladies. Actually, the membership even denied a membership to former Supreme Court docket Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and it nonetheless refuses to permit feminine Secret Service brokers on the property. There aren’t any ladies’s locker rooms or feminine bogs on the membership.

Certainly, the one time when ladies are allowed into Burning Tree is in December after they can e book an appointment to purchase Christmas presents for his or her husbands within the membership store — however solely in a three-hour slot on Saturdays.

Breitner isn’t shocked.

“Most golf golf equipment, not simply the men-only ones, are designed solely for males’s wants as a substitute or for the entire household and, for that matter, members of the LGBTQ group. Their enterprise mannequin is just not aligned with fashionable society.”

He mentioned that so long as there may be demand for male-only golf equipment — and there nonetheless is — and laws isn’t enacted to outlaw them, there’ll at all times be some golf equipment holding on to “custom.” For a lot of of those members, it appears there may be an old-school enchantment about being a part of one thing so unique, even when it’s an outdated idea, and it’s what they’re used to and need to protect.

“However we’re within the twenty first century,” Breitner added, “and most golfers regard them as irrelevant on the very least or, extra seemingly, as relics. Who would need to be a part of one? Actually?

About 500 individuals whole have been allowed into this golf membership

The Vintage Club in India Wells, CA
The Classic Membership in India Wells, CA.
Instagram @thevintageclub

As information of his impending divorce from spouse Melinda broke this month, Invoice Gates was tracked all the way down to The Classic, an ultra-exclusive personal golf membership and retreat close to Palm Springs, Calif. The Publish reported that Gates had been hiding out on the luxurious resort the place he first advised his golf buddies that his marriage was over.

Opened in 1980, The Classic is arguably probably the most unique membership in the USA.
The 712-acre website boasts 500 personal properties, two golf programs, an 85,000-square-foot clubhouse, a number of eating places, 11 tennis courts (full with 1,000-seater stadium), and an 18,000-square-foot luxurious spa, full with a hydromassage mattress. The Classic additionally employs a completely educated medical unit able to attend to any emergency, and a safety group so vigilant it’s mentioned each resident can go away their doorways unlocked, secure within the data nothing will go lacking.

The Microsoft founder bought his 13,573-square-foot property in 1999 for $12.5 million and it sits alongside certainly one of The Classic’s two pristine championship golf programs (each designed by acclaimed architect Tom Fazio). Gates’ home options six bedrooms, 9 bogs and, presumably, wonderful Wi-Fi. You possibly can see why Gates selected The Classic and it wasn’t only for the beautiful desert setting in a pure cove on the foot of Eisenhower Mountain in Indian Wells.

Bill Gates playing golf with fellow billionaire Warren Buffett.
Invoice Gates taking part in golf with fellow billionaire Warren Buffett.

Whereas it’s believed that ladies have at all times been allowed in as members of the golf membership, it’s not possible for nearly any human to get in. An estimated 500 individuals are members — together with billionaires Dennis Washington, Charles Koch and Philip Anshultz.

Potential inductees have to be invited, and even then they need to stump up the $250,000 initiation price plus $32,000 in annual charges in addition to personal a house on the resort, which may price as much as $20 million.

Small change for Invoice Gates, after all.


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