No Women Allowed


It’s hard to believe, but four area clubs still exclude female golfers.

Here we are in the 21st century, so it’s difficult to imagine any place that denies women entry. Yet there are still private entities that purposely exclude women from their grounds – and it happens to be legal.

In the Chicago suburbs, four golf clubs don’t allow women to play or work at their facilities. “It should be and usually is viewed as both sexist and discriminatory,” says Barbara Risman, professor of sociology/department head, University of Illinois at Chicago. Ms. Risman says men-only golf clubs send a clear message: “They don’t think their members need to bother to network with women, and women aren’t important enough to be serious players.”

Among area golf clubs excluding women is Oak Brook-based Butler National Golf Course, which hasn’t hosted a USGA or PGA tournament in more than 20 years because of its policy. Representatives from Bob-O-Link Golf Club and Old Elm Club in Highland Park, two other male-only clubs, declined to comment for TCW.

The only club known to have allowed a woman on its grounds, but not as a member or player, is west suburban Sugar Grove-based Black Sheep Golf Club, which allowed NBC Chicago’s Peggy Kusinski in to report on men-only golf clubs in 2012. But representatives from Black Sheep were also unavailable to comment.

“It wouldn’t bother me to see a woman around every now and then,” jokes Black Sheep member Stephen Redez. “The majority of members aren’t there just because women aren’t around. That’s not the reason most joined. I think it’s just the efficiency and ability to play rapidly with a group of guys, that’s all. And all-male country clubs don’t have costs that traditional country clubs have – no additional facilities for women, no frills.” As a result, most of Black Sheep’s money goes to maintaining the golf course.

But even if there’s no intention to discriminate against women, or that a golf club wasn’t built to be a place that discriminates against women, Ms. Risman says it does by its very existence.

Black Sheep, a relatively newer club that opened just after the turn of the century, is very informal, according to Mr. Redez. Members can munch on sandwiches for lunch. There’s no kitchen, so no need for a chef or equipment. Men are free to walk around shirtless and “you can curse more openly,” he admits. Is it okay to urinate on the course less discreetly?

The exclusion of women in private entities is perfectly legal. However, in order to operate, clubs must officially be private, abide by certain laws and not take certain federal or tax exemptions. “I think they still benefit from public amenities,” says Linda Zerilli, political science professor at the University of Chicago. “And in that way, [private entities] should probably still be held to the same standard as public accommodations.”

Both Ms. Zerilli and Ms. Risman argue that much of what happens in corporate America depends on social networks, personal contacts, knowing and trusting people. The real networking happens after work, and to deny women that opportunity in a place where many deals are made is wrong, they contend. “When you think about it in terms of access, this goes back to the problems around the so-called all-boys clubs,” Ms. Zerilli says. “Women couldn’t advance in the ranks in corporations, companies, lots of things; they just couldn’t get promoted because they didn’t have the social network that’s really important for advancing in terms of their career.”

“I suppose all-men country clubs exist for the same reason all-women country clubs exist,” Mr. Redez says. “[Sometimes], guys just like to hang out with the guys and women just want to hang out with other women.”

The notion that “guys just want to be guys,” according to Ms. Zerilli, “is a familiar and extremely outdated argument that has lost credibility in the public eye. While it’s a very small proportion [of golf clubs], that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. If you live in that community, whether you’re in the social network or not could really matter for your career advancement. The very fact that so few clubs today are sex exclusive is a sign that it’s not something we [should] tolerate in this society.”


About Renita D. Young

Native Chicagoan Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist currently reporting for | The Times-Picayune in southern Louisiana. With experience reporting on a variety of topics in three countries, she previously covered breaking news for Thomson Reuters, NBCUniversal's and WVON 1690AM, among others.