Equal Access to the Club

The Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, host to this week's Masters tournament, has about 250 members. None are female.

Augusta isn't unique, of course. Even women with full memberships at private golf and country clubs have rarely been afforded the same privileges as men. According to a recent report by The New York Times, a growing number of women around the nation, getting little response from the clubs themselves, are appealing to state legislatures for the same rights their husbands and single male members enjoy. These include the right to vote, to tee-off at the same time as men, and to eat in the same room.

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman told the newspaper that she is "amazed that country clubs or other social clubs of their own accord would sanction discrimination in this day and age." We are too.

Other types of clubs such as Kiwanis International changed their ways, in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling in 1988. It unanimously upheld a New York City law that bars discrimination against women and minorities by clubs that are not "distinctly private" - that is, those with more than 400 members, who offer regular meal service and receive payment from nonmembers.

Yet even those that are "distinctly private" and therefore exempt from laws barring discrimination may not be able to hang on to the old policies for too much longer. Already there's been a modicum of progress, the result of a handful of new state laws.

Legislating equality is difficult, under any circumstances. We hope in time the barriers to membership and equal access will fall away naturally - that more male members, for example, will see the folly of set-aside tee times. Until then, women golfers and others should continue to press the issue, seeking entry to the clubhouse and equal rights once they're there.

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