While the emergence of Tiger Woods has opened doors for women and racial minorities to join golf clubs in the US, Black Sheep Golf Club, near Chicago, has bucked the trend by hanging a ‘No women allowed’ sign at its front gate.
Members brought their girlfriends, wives and children to the recent opening for a one-off barbecue and a game of golf then told them: ‘Sorry, you can’t come back until next year.’
"We want a place to come and play golf, smoke a cigar in our underwear if we want, then go home,'' says founder president Vincent Solano.
Black Sheep doesn't have swimming pools or tennis courts, dances or dinners, or even a restaurant - like most private country clubs. It just has a 27-hole, links-style golf course, a pro shop and a men's locker room, four rooms for overnight guests and a stand-up bar with tables and chairs called 'the saloon.'
"There's a niche for this,'' says Solano. "It can’t be mass-marketed because I don't think everybody has a desire for it. But there are enough serious golfers out there that would enjoy the ability to play quickly and not have to absorb the cost of other amenities like a restaurant or pool or a lot of employees.''
He says some women might be serious enough about golf to be interested in a golf-only club, but he didn't think there were enough to make it worthwhile to open the membership to both sexes.
Solano claimed it wasn’t really 'a women issue' because the club doesn’t have a pool, a social calendar or anything for families.
"We didn't feel we'd be able to attract women, and if we did, we felt it would be such a small number, we would have an awkward balance of 200 to 250 men and two or three women. Then all the wives of the other men would be angry that three women would be captivating the attention of their husbands on the weekends.''
However, those wives might get even angrier if they knew their husbands are paying an £60,000 initiation fee plus £300 a month to belong to a club that promotes its exclusivity in its brochures through its Black Sheep name.
The course nestles in peaceful, rolling farmland with no trees. It has an extensive practice area and a large putting green. The clubhouse is designed to look like a farmhouse from the outside, but the inside has wooden floors with Oriental rugs.
Solano refuses apologise to those who think the men-only rule seems an old-fashioned return to Dickensian values.
"What woman is going to want to sit at a bar with guys smoking cigars? That's the street corner we grew up on. It's almost like a duck-hunting club where stupid men go out into the bush and sit all day and freeze trying to kill a duck. I don't see any women in those clubs. Obviously, they don't like to do that.
"We're just trying to create a place with a function we enjoy, and it just so happens from a membership standpoint that it's a primary men function as opposed to a primary women function."
In the UK laws are being created to outlaw the establishment of men-only clubs and end the discrimination dozens of private clubs still enforce with sections of their clubhouses out of bounds to women.
But in this quiet corner of America’s north-west there's still apparently a demand for keeping women out and many are prepared to pay royally for the privilege.
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