The biggest news in golf this past week was NOT Sam Burns winning the PGA Tour Valspar event. It wasn’t Mike Weir notching his first PGA Tour Champions victory, or even TaylorMade or Titleist introducing the latest driver or longer golf ball. The big story this week is the inclusion of women, as per Golf Digest. That’s right. For the first time in its 108 year history, Pine Valley Golf Club (NJ), long regarded by many course ranking lists as the #1 course in the world, and one of golf’s most exclusive clubs, voted last week to include women among their membership.
This is no small step. Not only were there no women members, but Pine Valley only permitted women onsite as guests after 3:00 PM on Sundays. In an email to members, club president Jim Davis wrote: “This evening at our Annual Meeting of the Members we made a historic change to Pine Valley’s bylaws. The future of golf must move toward inclusion, and I am pleased to report that the Trustees and members of the Pine Valley Golf Club voted unanimously and with enthusiasm to remove all gender-specific language from our bylaws. The club’s policies will now allow all guests to enjoy our club without restrictions and we will begin immediately identifying women candidates for membership with the expectation of having our first women members in the club by the end of this year.” Davis also recalled what a late member and friend said to him several years ago: “Remember, we don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.”
In the past year, several events, such as the murder of George Floyd and the resulting changes made by many institutions (NASCAR, the US Military, the Mississippi state flag, etc.) has signaled a fundamental change in our society. The election of an African-American woman as Vice President and our culture’s focus on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) has shined the light of scrutiny on golf and some change resulting in a progressive (albeit slow) evolution of its culture. Many clubs have reviewed their names, images and symbols with some resulting in modifications to logos or creation of alternatives and the removal of the use of potentially offensive terms (like Plantation). Others are reviewing their membership policies, especially with respect to gender equity and seeking to further diversify membership to include a broader representation of society. It’s hard for the many corporate executives who populate the most exclusive clubs to preach equity and inclusion and then frequent a club that doesn’t practice same.
It is now abundantly clear that the culture of golf is evolving – whether one likes it or not – in a progressive, and more importantly inclusive direction. This is (as the USGA likes to say) for the good of the game. Whether it be equity based on race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or any other category, golf has a clouded history when it comes to inclusion. There are still clubs that (mostly quietly) do not include African-Americans, Jews, Asians and other groups among their membership. It may not be public anymore, but it’s fact. There are still some clubs prohibiting women, although not many. Not only does society demand change on a moral basis but the economics of golf require a broader reach for long-term financial success.
In 2012, Augusta National, at least partly from public pressure, included women among its members. Pine Valley, not hosting a major, internationally televised event each year had no such pressure (that we know of) and this decision was unexpected. Whatever the reason, KUDOS to Pine Valley and their leadership for moving the baton forward – for the good of the game.