Golf's private policy meets public debate

Clubs: With national attention on Augusta's all-male membership, it isn't just the Masters host that has different rules for women.


April 07, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Andrea Kraus can do almost anything she wants on weekend mornings during golf season. She can browse at flea markets, sit down for a nice, leisurely brunch or spend time with her family.

The only activity in which Kraus can't participate is golf. At least not at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, where she has been a member since 1980.

It doesn't matter that the 42-year-old attorney has won the women's club championship four times and is one of the most accomplished amateur players in the area, a 10-time Baltimore City champion and two-time Maryland State champion.

If Kraus' husband, Ken, who often shoots in triple digits, wants to play at Woodholme on weekend mornings, he can. But she can't, because rules at Woodholme, like those of many other clubs around the country, prohibit women from teeing off until 11:30 a.m. on the weekends.

And, oh yes, on holidays, too.

"Country club golf certainly can be the last bastion of male chauvinism," Kraus said recently.

At least Kraus can be a member of Woodholme. A number of clubs in the United States, including one high-profile Georgia club in particular, choose not to have any female members.

This week, when the game's focus heads south to stately Augusta National, the issue won't be only whether defending champion Tiger Woods becomes the first player to win three straight Masters tournaments.

Much of the attention, early on and possibly until the winning putt drops in Sunday, will surround the protests of Martha Burk and her supporters, who plan to picket near the club beginning Friday. Burk, the National Council of Women's Organizations chair, is demanding the club admit women as it did an African-American in 1990.

In refusing, Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson has said race and gender are different issues.

His opponents can't see the distinction.

"How can you open the club to blacks because you don't want to insult the PGA, you don't want to violate PGA rules, and treat women as second-class citizens?" asked Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation.

But the simple truth is this: Augusta National is not the worst offender in its policy toward women. Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland, site of last year's British Open, doesn't even allow women in its clubhouse. And all the way down to the local level, many country clubs treat women differently in regard to matters such as tee times.

According to Augusta National spokesman Glenn Greenspan, women played 1,000 rounds on its course last year and Johnson played host to the women's golf team from the University of South Carolina, his alma mater.

"We don't have any rules regarding tee times," Greenspan said. "The only rule is that women can't use the men's locker room, which is the way it is at a lot of clubs."

Locally, the exclusive Burning Tree Country Club in Chevy Chase remains the only one in the Baltimore-Washington area and one of a few in the country that excludes women as members. In 1989, Burning Tree chose to give up any state tax exemptions in order not to be sued by women hoping to become members. Women are allowed on the premises only by appointment to buy gifts at the pro shop.

Pursuing equality

In 1995, nine women from a suburban Boston club sued because they felt they were being discriminated against. They wanted equal access to weekend morning tee times, and one of them, a 36-handicap player, wanted access to men-only tournaments.

Though officials from Haverhill Country Club told a court that the club offered what it called "premium" memberships to men and women - a few female members testified that they played on weekend mornings - a jury awarded the women $1.9 million.

The club immediately filed an appeal. Opening arguments were heard in December and, according to club president Scott Gleason, the case should be decided in "the next three to 12 months." The women are no longer members of the club.

Here and elsewhere, policies are as varied as the clubs. Private country clubs trying to satisfy a large number of players often have several tiers of membership, usually giving only one member of a family full privileges. Smaller private clubs where the members are there just to play golf usually have an easier time accommodating women.

Each sets its own rules to satisfy the majority of its members. It is difficult to gauge how many clubs in the Baltimore area allow equal access on weekend and holiday mornings because most, like Woodholme, do not make their policies public. The same holds true nationally: Private means private.

Until a year ago, Roberta Lavin, 60, couldn't play on weekend mornings at Rolling Road in Catonsville, where she has been a member since 1987. After several women complained, that policy was revised, but Lavin and others were told they would have to pay extra to enjoy full privileges.

Lavin declined to pay the difference, which came to about $27 a month, because there would be few women with whom to play. Lavin said most women are content not to cause any waves at Rolling Road.

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