There’s nothing like a gun to your head to cut through muddled thinking, writes ANDY CAPOSTAGNO in Compleat Golfer magazine.
Or, as Dr Johnson put it, ‘When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ Thus, when threatened with being dropped from The Open Championship roster for an outdated and sexist policy, the members of Muirfield Golf Club voted to admit women as members.
Yet, it turns out the refusal to admit women members is far from being the only exclusionary tactic used by golf clubs.
The blackball system is still prevalent at the more exclusive clubs, usually based upon the idea that you can’t join, you have to be invited. Subsequently, the membership is canvassed with the name of the prospective new member, and if one person objects, he places a black ball into the pot, and the membership is refused.
Years ago, when the idea of women members was gaining traction, clubs sought ways to cling to the past. In the 1940s the great singer Dinah Shore took up golf and wanted to join Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. Hillcrest refused her request, not because she was a woman, but because she wasn’t married. Can’t have single women floating around the place whipping up unwanted passions among the male membership.
Ms Shore had the last laugh. After having a letter published in the Times calling out Hillcrest for its policy, she received offers from more than 100 clubs nationwide, as well as marriage proposals from men claiming to be Hillcrest members. The club waited for the furore to die down, then quietly admitted her.
It is not impossible that there was another reason for Hillcrest’s original refusal of Ms Shore’s membership request. She was Jewish. In common with many clubs and societies in the past century, anti-Semitism was so institutionalised it was invisible. That is to say, you won’t find it written down anywhere, it was just omnipresent.
The natural reaction was, of course, for Jews to start clubs of their own. Bobby Jones won his first US Open at Inwood Country Club on Long Island. Inwood was set up for Jewish golf-loving professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc – whose religious beliefs precluded them from joining elsewhere. Its own exclusionary system kept out the riff-raff by charging outrageous membership fees.
And in case you think the 21st century has kicked all that nonsense into touch, consider this: in January this year people resigned from Woodmont Country Club in Maryland because its president, Barry Forman, had suggested they invite Barack Obama to become a member. Worse still, Forman had proposed the club waive the $80 000 joining fee.
The majority of Woodmont’s members are Jewish and some took exception to Obama refusing to veto a resolution at the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel for its building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Obama was introduced to the club in 2015 by Thomas Nides, a former secretary of state, who said of the January kerfuffle, ‘This whole issue is ridiculous. The only thing the guy wants to do is to play golf.’
Amen to that. Let’s end on a happier note, with an exclusionary tale that dates back to the ’50s. Los Angeles Country Club didn’t like actors and the publicity that came with them, so when Hollywood heartthrob Victor Mature applied for membership, he was rejected.
Mature’s response was classic: ‘I’ve never been an actor,’ he protested. ‘And I’ve got 64 movies to prove it’.
– This article first appeared in the June issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale