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  • Alistair Tait

Golf hell has begun to freeze over

Is it any wonder outsiders look at this auld game of golf and think it’s still stuck in the Middle Ages when they see headlines like: “Pine Valley, No. 1 course in the U.S., to allow female members for first time in its 100-year plus history”?

What year is it? Oh, yes, 2021. Yet that’s the headline on the Golf Digest website after the publication broke the story that America’s best course is finally going to recognise the other 50% of the population.

As Golf Digest reports, Pine Valley has just realised golf isn’t just a man’s game and has written the following to members:

“The future of golf must move toward inclusion, and I am pleased to report that the Trustees and members of the Pine Valley Golf Club have voted unanimously and with enthusiasm to remove all gender-specific language from our bylaws.
“The club’s policies will now allow all guests to enjoy our club without restrictions and we will begin immediately identifying women candidates for membership with the expectation of having our first women members in the club by the end of this year. As has been our custom, all prospective candidates must be socially compatible, share a deep passion for the game of golf, and be able to play the golf course with the skill level our founder George Crump intended.”

Stina Sternberg, who works for Golf Digest and Golf TV, put it best when she tweeted:

The term “socially compatible” suggests blue collar women workers living in nearby Clementon, New Jersey perhaps shouldn’t apply. Ditto for blue collar men. Pine Valley might be America’s best course, but it’s not what could have previously been called a “working man’s” golf club.

Owning up time: I’ve played Pine Valley. Perhaps I’m a hypocrite since I’ve railed against male-only clubs my entire golf writing career. I went to Pine Valley to experience what Tom Doak described in his seminal book The Confidential Guide as…

“…golf’s most awesome experience, a shining example of golf architecture in the raw so that even the color-blind can understand it.”

Doak probably never wrote a truer word. Pine Valley is far and away the best inland course I’ve ever played.

I also played Royal St George’s, Royal Troon (pictured) and Muirfield – in my opinion the world’s best links – before they saw the light and opened their doors to women members.

Hypocrite? Maybe? But there’s a difference between playing a golf course and joining clubs that (previously) discriminate against women. While I agree the former felt uncomfortable, the latter was/is inexcusable. No way in 100 years – 108 years in Pine Valley’s case – would I ever have considered joining an all-male club. My family would probably disown me. In fact, I never for a moment considered such establishments even existed when I first learned to play this game at Merry Hill Golf Club just outside Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. There were no signs at Merry Hill such as the one that allegedly hung in the Royal St George’s lunchroom in the early 1900s that read:

“Women are admitted to play on the course only on sufferance and must at all times give way to (male) members.”

I don’t remember any battles of the sexes at Merry Hill. Everyone just played golf, which is just as it should be

I agree with Sternberg. It’s embarrassing for a club like Pine Valley to take so long to reach this decision, just as it was embarrassing for the aforementioned Scottish Clubs and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to take so long to accept women members. These clubs only began admitting women in 2014.

Another wee bit of golf hell has just begun to freeze over.

#JustSaying: “Women playing in trousers must take their trousers off before entering the clubhouse.” Another sign that allegedly hung outside Royal St George’s for a brief period in the 1920s

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