Groucho Marx once joked he would not want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member.
Women in golf today have the opposite problem: They want to join, but in many cases, the boys won't let them in the clubhouse door.
The kingdom of golf has always been viewed as a conservative society, but conservative doesn't have to mean antiquated or misogynist.
But, those are terms one could argue should be slapped on certain segments of the golf industry's attitude toward women today. Studies sanctioned by the powers-that-be in golf have identified women as a potential source of revenue in a game that many say is ailing.
But, when it comes to letting them in the clubhouse or on the course, it seems to be a different story.
"They want a cheap date," Martha Burk, Chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, told TravelGolf.com. "They want to get women into golf for whatever revenue they can bring, but they also make a clear statement where they believe women belong, and it's in a second-class status."
The PGA Tour, PGA of America and the USGA all have anti-discrimination policies in place, but those policies don't always seem to be followed.
Consider Fred Ridley, President of the U.S. Golf Association. Ridley belongs to not one, but two clubs that exclude women.
Excluding women and minorities may be a nudge-and-wink thing for the good ol' boys at a private club in the backwood pines of Georgia, but for the head of the most powerful ruling body in U.S. golf to agree with such a policy is beyond explanation.
Ridley, who is also an attorney, belongs to Augusta National in Georgia and Pine Valley in New Jersey. Both just say no when it comes to letting women into their memberships. Pine Valley takes it a step further, not even allowing its hallowed course to be sullied by footprints of the fairer sex.
"The hypocrisy is just breathtaking," said Burk, best known for her protest of Augusta National's policies during The Masters. "They talk about how the USGA gives money to these programs to bring boys and girls into golf, but the message is 'just don't try to play on an equal basis with the boys once you pass childhood.' It's ridiculous."
The USGA has a grant-making program that helps young people, including girls, and is committed to a $5 million annual grants initiative through 2010.
Great. On the other hand, the main man at the USGA unofficially sanctions exclusionary policies and thumbs his nose at his own organization's words. It's amazing to me there hasn't been more of an outcry, but as I say, golf is a conservative game, played and governed for the most part by conservative people.
It's a wonder more female athletes haven't complained. There have been a few, but not many.
Even the LPGA seems to be cowed. LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw is one of the few willing to speak out, urging August National to accept women members as long as it hosts the Masters, but other dissenting voices are rare.
"For some reason, the LPGA as an organization is too intimidated or timid," Burk said. "Some of their members, most notably Nancy Lopez, have actually spoken in opposition to their own policies when it comes to Augusta, and apparently there's no sanction for that.
"What she has said over and over is that she doesn't see anything wrong with Augusta National's policy. She will say on the other hand, 'I would like to be a member.' Whether or not she has an official position in the organization, she certainly represents the LPGA when she speaks. When she minimizes sex discrimination in a place like Augusta or Pine Valley, she's basically discounting the LPGA's position on it in the first place, in my view."
The LPGA is a separate entity from the USGA, though the two touch on some matters: the USGA stages the U.S. Women's Open and the two have a combined program called LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Club.
Votaw said Ridley's stance is a personal one, and felt it was inappropriate for him to comment specifically.
"The policies of the USGA are completely consistent with our viewpoint on the subject, meaning they won't stage their tournaments at clubs that discriminate in their membership policy," Votaw told TravelGolf.com. "If that policy somehow changes, then I think there might be some linkage, if you will, between whether there is a connection between Fred's position and the change in the policy."
What is not consistent is the USGA's official position and the actions of its head.
It's a no-brainer to reconcile the two for Ridley, who did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.
The solution is simpler than using a putter from two feet: Join the 21st century. Resign from Augusta and Pine Valley.
Until he does, the USGA can be lumped in with Hootie Johnson and all those other hypocrites who want to keep the girls in the kitchen and out of the clubhouse.
June 28, 2004
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!