Women Fight Uphill Battle for Tee at Many Area Golf Clubs, Discrimination Is Par for the Course

By Susnjara, Bob | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 17, 2000 | Go to article overview

Women Fight Uphill Battle for Tee at Many Area Golf Clubs, Discrimination Is Par for the Course


Susnjara, Bob, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


On the surface, it appears women in golf are doing pretty well, considering they play this week in a prestigious tournament at Gurnee's Merit Club with $2.75 million in prize money.

But what occurs at the professional level does not reveal the complete story. Women have second-class status at some private clubs where there are policies dictating when women can play.

The courts recently sided with women in their battle against discrimination on the links. A $1.97 million verdict went against the Haverhill Golf and Country Club near Boston last year when a jury found nine women were unjustly denied primary memberships that include desirable tee times.

No such similarities are evident at the Merit Club, which will host the U.S. Women's Open starting Thursday.

Club officials and members say its relative youth - it opened in 1992 - and small size are among the reasons it has been able to differentiate itself from other private enclaves.

At some venerable private clubs, it's common for only men to be admitted as primary members, with their spouses and family tagging along. The Merit Club, however, has accepted five single women and three wives who are the primary members, not their husbands.

Ed Oldfield, who has been Merit Club's president since its inception, said men, women and children have equal access to tee times and all amenities. He said the club can have liberal access because it has just 185 members.

Merit Club member Karen Goodyear is among the women who appreciate the open policy. She learned to play golf about 12 years ago while living in Europe, where she said sexism was not prevalent in the sport.

So when Goodyear and her husband returned to Chicago, they sought a club where women would be treated fairly. The Merit Club, which federal tax records show charged roughly $54,000 to become a member in 1998, fit the bill.

Goodyear said old-line clubs should rethink their policies toward women. Nonetheless, she said she understands such a culture change will take time because many private, male-dominated clubs were launched before women even had the right to vote.

"A lot of the clubs on the North Shore are 100 years old," Goodyear said, "and few women played golf when they opened."

Oldfield said such discrimination could occur because clubs that have 500 male members, for example, now suddenly find more women clamoring for tee times. Instead of 10 women playing at their clubs, there could be 200 looking to join the 500 men who had the links to themselves and are not about to surrender their prime tee times.

Lake Forest's Knollwood Club, which opened in 1924, makes no apologies for not allowing women - or non-members - on the course before 11 a.m. on Saturdays, and other restrictions it has on play. Knollwood governor John Ingold III said only members can play before 11 a. …

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