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Marine Drive speaks

There’s been lots of discussion on the blog lately about the battle at Marine Drive in Vancouver between the members that want to keep a men’s only lounge and a group of female members that want access to the lounge.

The discussion on G4G has largely involved a Marine Drive member and his debate with the poster using the alias Weekend Enthusiast.

However, on Bob Week’s blog yesterday, the club has been more vocal, something it has been reluctant to do in the past. I’m not going to print his entire response, but here are the highlights from Brian Butters, a committee member at the club and 2006 club president. According to a Google search, he’s also executive director of the BC PGA.

Among his remarks are:

This is an issue that has a lot less to do with where men and women hang out than it does with how a club “ any club “ should be governed.

This I agree with. However, emails and conversations I’ve had with some prominent GMs in Canada have suggested this public debate should never have taken place. According to some GMs — and I do not know this as a fact — the women only lounge at Marine Drive did not measure up to the men’s. According to some, this issue could have disappeared had that disparity been resolved. Anyway, onwards. Here’s the facts as Butters sees it:

Marine Drives board in 2004 caved in to pressure from a small group of new female members who threatened legal action if the mens lounge was not opened to women. The board at the time, unilaterally and without consultation with the membership, opened the mens lounge to both genders despite the fact the women had a lounge of their own as well as a large mixed lounge for both genders. Members called an extraordinary meeting at which 87% of the clubs membership voted. 77% voted to remove three directors, including the then-president. Three new members were voted on to the board to restore a rational balance. The members were subsequently asked to vote on whether there should be gender-specific lounges at the club. More than 78% said yes, and among the women themselves, of those who voted, 60% favored gender-specific lounges.

He adds (and note no reference to the women’s lounge): The club spent $2 million last year renovating the clubhouse to create a fabulous mixed lounge that occupies prime space overlooking the 18th green that had previously been men-only. The mens lounge is considerably smaller today than it was prior to the renovation, but the men of Marine Drive have been flexible in order to accommodate all constituencies of the club, just as we have been doing for all of our 85-year history.

He concludes:

Our members have exercised their democratic rights and the new board has represented the interests of the vast majority of the members. That is as it should be. — Brian Butters, President, Marine Drive Golf Club

Funny that the club decided to speak publicly on a blog, but didn’t make remarks to the media. At least, not in the searches of articles I looked at.

I’m also intrigued at the media coverage of the event. There’s been a lot of talk in the Toronto media (though not nearly as much in the Vancouver papers) about some stated “facts.” I don’t know if any of this has been proven, but it has been reported like it has. Here’s a couple of lines from the Vancouver Province:

The Golf Club opened the Bullpen Lounge and Bullpen Deck to both men and women for a three-month period between June and August, 2004. On a number of occasions when they attempted to use those facilities, some women were harassed, shunned, and intimidated.

Some male members put up a sign in the Bullpen lounge that said “Cow Pen”

In the end, I still feel a private club is a private club and is in the hands of its members. If the members want to do something ridiculous, that is their right. All the debate about who votes and how they vote is moot in my mind — any member should have known how that was established before they joined.

Clubs that cross lines that prospective members find acceptable will find those potential members go elsewhere with their dollars. In the Toronto market this is not an issue — there are private clubs everywhere screaming to gain the attention of a handful who might have the cash to join. That’s why decisions like the one made by Marine Drive, and the continued men’s only policy at a club like the National, are anachronistic. However, they must have some support — otherwise these clubs would be changing their policies in an attempt to gain more members and more revenue. Dollars talk, or the members walk.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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