Men’s-Only Clubs: Where Boys Will Be Good Ol’ Boys
By Stephanie Wei under General

This is a column I wrote last month for the April issue of Avid Golfer.

Since I’m a 26-year-old Ivy League grad who played college golf, lives in NYC and comes from a family of Chinese immigrants, you’d figure I’d find men’s-only golf clubs — celebrated as the bastions of exclusivity and chauvinism — to be downright insufferable. Well, you’re right. I think the concept is outdated and offensive, and it blows my mind such a passe phenomenon befitting of the Mad Men era still exists in 2010.

I tried my best to think these clubs were okay, but the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t a fan. I know they’re legal, but so are John Daly’s purple paisley pants.

I believe if I do my job as well as a guy does, I should be paid the same. (Yes, really!) So of course I don’t like the idea of gender-biased golf clubs. Before the dissenters berate me for holding a double standard, that goes for the ladies-only ones, too. But to my understanding, there is one remaining women’s-only club in North America, The Ladies Golf Club of Toronto. Wait, say what? It’s recently been opened to a limited number of men to join as “Guest Card Holders.” Oh, for good measure, I don’t agree with Jewish-only and non-white-male clubs either.

Over the past week I’ve spoken to a fair number of people who either worked at, played or belonged to men’s-only clubs to try and understand this tradition like no other.

It seems men joined because the clubs were pure golf clubs with celebrated courses. The members want to play their game with their people, the way they want, when they want. At these fraternities for middle-aged men, guys can play in their tighty-whities, brag about the hot chick they banged the night before, drink until they vomit, and pee in the fairway while they play big-money games with their fivesomes.

James Gray, a member at the men’s-only Royal St. Georges in the UK, said he was also a member at one in Florida, but left within a year because of the repulsive behavior at the watering hole that was called a golf club. “The golf course was secondary to what else went on,” he said. “In my experience, it was called a golf club because it suited men who didn’t want to own up to how they behaved and I don’t have time for that.”

What I find the most absurd is that at some men’s-only clubs a woman can’t even step foot on the grounds, and at many, the parking lot is the check point. A member of one in Illinois — who wished to remain anonymous so let’s call him Wallace — said, “Wives often drop off and pick up their husbands and they wait in their cars, where staff may offer them a cold drink if they anticipate the member may be delayed.”

Now that’s awfully hospitable.

I mean, would it really kill the members to let their wives and daughters play a round of golf or dine with them on occasion? Why can’t men just act like 19-year-old beer-guzzling frat boys in the men’s grill room? And in their foursomes on the golf course? Maybe the better question is why they feel they need an excuse to act differently if women are around. Naturally because they’re gentlemen.

Since I don’t have a penis, I just don’t get it. Sorry.

Then there’s Burning Tree Club in the DC area, where apparently bigwigs from Capitol Hill play. Women are tolerated on the premises once a year. Just before Christmas they’re allowed on the grounds but restricted to the golf shop where they can buy gifts for their husbands.

I’m sure that’s a rush. I bet some arrive at the gates before dawn to ensure first pick.

There are roughly two dozen men’s-only golf clubs out of around 4,300 private golf clubs. So you see, the percentage is microscopic and ladies have 4,276 other perfectly nice private courses that can accommodate their golfing needs. You know, when they’re not busy developing Betty Draper Syndrome as they cook, clean and care for the children while the men fraternize on the links.

While women’s roles have changed — they can vote, work, earn more money and even run for president — the clubs are stuck back in time. Why? Because they want a throwback to the good old days. Perhaps if the men demand to have these clubs, they should also have to wear the same long red coats and tri-cornered hats, and play hickory shafted clubs and a featherie ball. Now that would only seem fair.

But I realize men’s-only golf clubs are private governing bodies. As the good old boys snarl, don’t dare challenge their right to handpick members as they please.

Duly respected.

So I won’t be scribbling an angry tirade to the Supreme Court to bulldoze the ironclad gates of these Tree Houses, nor will I be picketing outside Augusta National the week of The Masters.

Change must come from inside the gates. Until then, play on like it’s 1959 — or 1852.