Last week, the famed Augusta National Golf Club finally admitted its first two female members, an overdue break from an 80-year tradition of exclusion. The news was welcome, especially given the historic club’s important role in the promotion of golf in the United States. But that hurdle to equality now removed, the focus turns to the question of whether even less prominent men-only golf clubs have any place in a modern society. The answer is no.
Take, for instance, the National Golf Club of Canada, a private enclave in the Toronto suburb of Woodbridge that steadfastly refuses to allow women to join. Women may play as guests on a limited basis, but otherwise the wives and daughters of members are invited to stay away.
Of course, private clubs are legally allowed to exclude on the basis of gender; health clubs and spas do it without raising concerns. But golf clubs have always been more than places to go for a workout or a manicure. They are hubs in the old-boys’ network; access to them provides not only a game of golf but also the opportunity to meet other well-heeled members and make vital business connections. To continue to exclude women from this all-important access is a reminder that, in corporate Canada, a woman doesn’t have to be in the office to bump her head on the glass ceiling.
Furthermore, the justifications for men-only clubs sound more and more like bad lines from an episode of Mad Men. The idea, for instance, that some courses are too hard for women (the National is considered the toughest course in Canada) is particularly ironic in light of a 15-year-old girl, Lydia Ko, finishing 13 under par to win the Canadian Women’s Open in Vancouver on Sunday. Equally outdated are claims that women slow down play, or that men need a place to get away from women. Similar arguments are probably heard in the clubhouses of the finer courses in Saudi Arabia, but they don’t belong in Canada.
Proponents of the all-male golf club will be quick to point out that Toronto is home to a women-only club, the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto. However, considering it was established in 1924 just so a woman could get a tee time back when inequality was the norm, its purpose is a little higher than that of exclusion for its own sake. Perhaps it too will one day become an anachronism, but first things first.