Gender at Private Sports Clubs

Sylvia Stewart, Partner of the Center

Being a “genetic male” who has worked in a variety of financial institutions and corporations, I saw instances of discriminatory actions aimed at women in the areas of golf and private clubs.

In golf there are tee boxes for men, and then tee boxes for women that are placed farther out on the assumption that women are unable to hit the ball as far as men. This sometimes led to derisive comments, like, “He needs to be hitting from the ladies’ tee.”  Obligatory, hollow laughter ensues– the idea being that in life, we have to dumb things down for the “little ladies.” In fact, I’ve seen female players who easily “crush” many male players. Then of course there were complaints about “Ladies’ Day” and women eventually being allowed into areas of the clubhouse that had previously been reserved for males. The locker room is the last bastion for males and that’s where the poker playing and drinking goes on, and stories get told—and maybe a few deals get cut.


In the very early ’70s I began my banking career in Detroit and was often a guest at (never a member of) the aristocratic Detroit Athletic Club. All the service people were African American, and women (guests or family only!) entered through a special side doorway. When I was last there in 2005 all that had changed. The men’s locker room had only recently been radically reconfigured to accommodate a women’s locker room and spa area. There was no joy in Mudville! As a consequence, the “Isle of Yap,” (a bar—a sacred male bastion) was no more; it had been “integrated.” To shower, we had to walk “in the buff” past the full poker tables to access the towels. My host apologized but it was OK—the “towel-snapping” atmosphere reminded me of high school.