Golf and Gender - The Debate Heats Up in Phoenix

Things are heating up in the "Valley of the Sun", at the venerable Phoenix Country Club to be exact... and this has nothing to do with the desert city's torrid temperatures.

What's boiling over right now is a debate over sex segregation in the country club's dining rooms.

This scenario probably sounds familiar because over the past several years it's been an issue at many private golf and country clubs across the country and around the world: The Men Only area, and what to do about it.

Sometimes it's just a room, sometimes an actual restaurant or grill, but it's always a bastion for the boys, where girls are not allowed. The fact is, many clubs have them and, as private clubs, they've always been allowed to have them. Every now and then you'd read about a protest or a petition... or even a law suit being filed... in response to a segregation situation, but in the end these efforts often seemed to fizzle on the basis that private clubs are not in theory subject to antidiscrimination laws.

In Phoenix however, the plaintiffs and their supporters are pressing on, in the face of substantial sophomoric harassment. They want the Men's Grill (a well appointed bar and dining area overlooking the course) to be open to everyone, making the Womens Grill (a dingy, illappointed afterthought of a room) unnecessary.

Their efforts seem to be paying off
too. A legal opinion was issued earlier this week, by the Attorney General's Civil Rights Division which determined that the country club had far too many events open to non-members to be considered a private club and therefore was subject to the state's anti-discrimination laws.

It's not over yet though, because the opinion is non-binding and club officials say they have no intention of changing the policy. They have initiated efforts to upgrade the Women's Grill to the standard of the Men's facility, but not to open the Men's Grill to women. The problem is compounded by the fact that though there is a nonsegregated restaurant at the club, it's not open at all times and the Men's Grill with it's wide screen televisions and pleasant appointments is where everyone wants to be after a round at PCC. It's where the bonding and business deals take place. So...where does that leave the business woman, or lawyer or physician when she's playing golf with a group of male colleagues? Not in a very good place I would imagine.

Sex segregation in the Grills might be a tradition that some curmudgeons at the 100 year old Phoenix Country Club would like to uphold, but it's just not practical in an economic climate that has such clubs looking for new revenue streams and allowing groups with little or no connection to country club members to host events on site. Those in charge of the balance sheets at PCC must wish the traditionalists would shut up and go with sexually integrated flow.

But for now it seems a judge may have to come in and have the final word. We'll be following this with interest.