The presence of the U.S. Open on Long Island prompted a new spotlight to be shined on the male-only membership policy of the club that first opened in 1899. “As a private club, any rule change must be voted on by its membership,” said club President Brian Nelsen when contacted for a statement. “Although our entrance requirements may change in the future, we don’t currently have plans to change our criteria for membership.”
The U.S. Open’s presence at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on New York’s Long Island also prompted a spotlight to be shined on the male-only membership policy of the Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club.
Jim Baumbach, an “investigative and enterprise reporter” for Newsday, the Melville, N.Y. newspaper that focuses its coverage on Long Island, wrote a column during U.S. Open weekend exploring the policy of Garden City GC.
“Garden City Golf Club first opened in 1899 and is consistently ranked among the best courses in the world,” Baumbach wrote. “Few things have changed at the club over the years, including its membership policy, which does not allow women to join.
“It’s a policy the club is in no hurry to change,” Baumbach added.
Baumbach’s Newsday article included a statement from club President Brian Nelsen, which read: “The Garden City Golf Club has a 119-year tradition as a private club which accepts male members. As a private club, any rule change must be voted on by its membership. Although our entrance requirements may change in the future, we don’t currently have plans to change our criteria for membership.”
Baumbach then reported on a “brief telephone interview“ during which Nelsen said, “We’re gentlemen who play golf.”
When asked why women are not allowed as members, Baumbach reported, Nelsen declined to comment, saying he would rather have that conversation in person. But calls to attempt to schedule a meeting for that purpose were then not returned, Baumbach reported.
Because the club is private, Baumbach reported, little information is available to the public, and the club does not have a website. Spokeswoman Katherine Heaviside told Newsday that the club has about 400 members, and wives and daughters of members are permitted to play the 18-hole course on Mondays and Fridays, if they tee off before 11 a.m.
The Garden City Golf Club’s tax return is public because it is a nonprofit social club, Newsday reported. On its 2016 tax return, the most recent available, the club reported $6.1 million in revenue.
Rachelle Dickerson, a spokeswoman for the New York State Division of Human Rights, told Newsday that private clubs can be exempt from laws that prohibit discrimination if the club is proved to be “distinctly private.”
Whether a club qualifies for an exemption is considered on a case-by-case basis, Dickerson added.
The New York State public accommodation law says a club cannot be considered “distinctly private” if, among other criteria, it “regularly receives payment for dues, fees, use of space, facilities, services, meals or beverages directly or indirectly from or on behalf of a nonmember,” Newsday reported.
In 2006, Newsday reported, the Division of Human Rights concluded that the Mill River Club in Old Brookville, N.Y. did not qualify for a public accommodation exemption because nonmembers regularly paid for golf and tennis lessons and held banquets there. The club had quotas for members based on religion and argued that it was distinctly private. In 2009, a state appellate court affirmed the Division of Human Rights’ ruling.
Attorney Russell Penzer, who represented the member who filed the complaint against Mill River Club, told Newsday that as long as the public isn’t paying to use the facility, a club would be considered “distinctly private.”
The Garden City Golf Club’s claimed exemption from the law has never been challenged, Newsday reported, based on its search of the Division of Human Rights database.
Newsday’s report included an interview with former New York Republican State Sen. John Dunne, who lived in Garden City for 60 years and was a Garden City Golf Club member for about 35 years, until 1989. At that time, Dunne resigned his membership, because he was being appointed by President George H.W. Bush to be the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Now 88 and still practicing law in Albany, N.Y. Dunne told Newsday that he left the club because “it would be inappropriate for someone who has a high position of enforcing law based upon gender to continue to be a member of a men’s only club.”
But Dunne added that he doesn’t think there’s a problem with a private golf club that allows only men to be members. “It’s freedom of choice,” he said.
According to Garden City village historian William Bellmer, most village residents agree with Dunne, Newsday reported.
Bellmer said he has lived in the village since 1943 and can’t recall a time when residents were upset with the club’s membership policy.
“I don’t hear much talk about that, and I think it goes back to the fact there are two other country clubs in the area,” Bellmer said.
Those other clubs—Garden City Country Club and Cherry Valley Club—also are private, but allow women to become members, Newsday reported.
Professional golfer Jean Bartholomew, 51, who grew up in Garden City, is a longtime LPGA player and also one of the few women who have spent a lot of time at Garden City GC, because her coach was the head pro there, Newsday reported.
“I’ve been there a lot, more than most women,” Bartholomew said, adding that she knows many of the members.
“A lot of them work in Garden City, or I went to school with their children, their sons,” she explained. “A couple of my cousins’ husbands are members, and I have friends who are members.”
Bartholomew told Newsday that she doesn’t have a problem with the club remaining men-only, because women have just as much right to open their own club and keep men out.
Still, Bartholomew added, she is conflicted because she understands that women are missing out. “I don’t have a problem with [the policy],” she said. “I do, but I don’t.”
Newsday’s article also included comments from Suzy Whaley, who became the first woman to qualify for a PGA event in 2003 and is in line to be elected PGA President in November, becoming the first woman to hold that position.
Asked about Garden City Golf Club’s membership policy, Whaley said that as a private club, its members are within their rights “to have their own membership policies in place,” she said. “And I’m respectful of that.”
Golf is bigger than a few clubs, Whaley said, and progress is being made for young girls and women to play the game.
“We want anyone who wants to play this game to feel welcome,” Whaley said. “Would I love to see a day where clubs gave everyone an opportunity to play? Of course I would. But for now, the PGA of America will take our championships where they do.”
For the complete Newsday article, go to: https://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/male-only-garden-city-golf-club-stands-by-tradition-1.19215153
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