Two of the final bricks in golf’s notorious male-only facade are set to be removed with the all-male Pine Valley, often rated as the best course in the world, ready to emulate Portmarnock by opening up its membership to females.
Pine Valley, the 108-year-old layout in New Jersey, has stubbornly persisted with its discriminatory policy, despite the likes of the Royal and Ancient and Muirfield changing its rules to allow women to join in the last decade.
Yet the club which has boasted the likes of President George HW Bush, Arnold Palmer and Sean Connery as members, has at last voted to join the 21st Century – if not the 20th and 19th – and removed the restrictions that only permitted females to play as a guest of a member on a Sunday afternoon.
Pine Valley would not comment on the report by Golf Digest, but the email to members secured by the American magazine leaves no doubt. “This evening at our Annual Meeting of the Members we made a historic change to Pine Valley’s bylaws,” Jim Davis, the club president, wrote. “The future of golf must move toward inclusion, and I am pleased to report… [we] have voted unanimously and with enthusiasm to remove all gender-specific language from our bylaws… with the expectation of having our first women members in the club by the end of this year.”
The gender restriction has always been held up as the reason why Pine Valley has yet to host a major. It is regularly voted ahead of Augusta National as the best in the world – albeit in unashamedly American-centric polls – and now many will hope it is soon seen on TV screens. However, the course is situated in a dense forest – or “stuffed inside a sardine can” as it is regularly described.
Portmarnock, on the other hand, seems destined to stage an Open Championship if and when it goes through with its own enlightened plan. The Dublin links is set to hold a special general meeting where it vote on amending the rule that states that “the club shall consist of members and associate members who shall be gentlemen properly elected and who shall conform with the rules of amateur status”.
There is clearly an appetite for Portmarnock to be the first course outside of the UK to host the game’s oldest major. Two years ago, the Amateur Championship took place at the course which Tiger Woods described as “one of the most enjoyable links I have had an opportunity to play”, but that was only because it was awarded the event several years before the R&A introduced its ban on men-only clubs hosting its championships.
That decision five year ago by the governing body ultimately persuaded not only Muirfield but also Royal Troon to alter its constitution. Eighteen months ago, Glasgow Golf Club became the last in Britain to drop its male-only members regulation.
However, several still exist in the US, including Burning Tree Club in Maryland. It was founded in 1922, supposedly in response to a male foursome from the Chevy Chase Club being stuck behind a slow-playing group of female golfers, and since then it has belligerently stuck to this tradition.
It has even been favoured over other club customs, most notably always extending honorary memberships to Supreme Court Justices. Sandra Day O’Connor was not invited to join in 1981, despite being a 12-handicapper at nearby Chevy Chase.
Never mind a women’s locker room, there is not even a women’s bathroom at Burning Tree. Women are not permitted inside the club at all, apart from into the professional shop in December to shop for Christmas presents for their husbands.