To the rest of the country, the discrimination is shocking, especially coming from such an enclave of progressivism. But there are fewer hardlines in the game than the restrictions at clubs throughout New York. Westchester County is a prime example. Winged Foot is one of the WASPiest clubs in America, while right across the street, Quaker Ridge is one of the finest Jewish clubs you will find. One member at the latter joked that the only gentile members at Quaker were second wives. No such humor exists at Winged Foot.
Westchester isn’t alone. Out on Long Island, Maidstone is as staid and Episcopalian as any club on the Eastern Seaboard while Atlantic Golf Club, just 10 miles away and consistently ranked in the top-100 courses, is the main Jewish club of eastern Long Island. The members at Atlantic jokingly call their club “Maidstein.”
But it’s not just religion that segregates golf in the Northeast corridor. A lot of clubs still, in 2023, put restrictions on when women can make tee times. In a throwback to the Eisenhower era of golf, there are still clubs that reserve Saturday mornings for men only. Tuesday is Ladies’ Day, ignoring the fact that 46.6% of the U.S. workforce is made up of women.
One club in the region is not just flipping that script, but also setting a new tone and culture to make women feel welcome and engaged. The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, has not only lifted restrictions on when women can play, the club has created programs that entice women to use the club as their own.
"The culture of the club has evolved over the past eight-10 years,” says Nandita Atal, president of the Ladies Golf Association at SAGC. “The entire club has risen to the challenge of embracing women golfers, finding ways to make us more comfortable both playing and around the clubhouse, and respecting our voice in running operations. I don’t think there’s a more female-positive club in the Met Area.”
Women’s golf programming is not seen as an adjunct. It is a primary driver of business at Saint Andrew’s. Club governance has become a model of gender equality and inclusiveness, and not just a reaction to COVID-19 and an influx of women into the game. A long-term planning initiative identified a significant opportunity to bring more women into the game, and for more than five years women have had equal status as golfers. The tee is open to women and men equally, virtually any time, any day. While a lot of people outside the area might shake their heads and say, “Duh, of course they should be able to play whenever they want,” this is breakthrough thinking in much of the traditionalist Northeast.
Also, women are represented on the club’s board and on committees. Women’s voices are being heard in all aspects of club operations.
To change the culture required more than opening the tee sheet, however. The professional staff worked closely with the LGA to put concrete, women-friendly programs into place. More experienced women golfers, for example, show newer golfers the ropes and explain the rules, not just of the game, but of how to fit in at a golf club. The LGA also hosts informal events while the staff puts on “Lunch & Learn” sessions and clinics throughout the year that give members the chance to socialize, ask questions, and improve their games. There were even workshops on the mental game and mindfulness on the golf course, tailored for women.
The spirit of equality has had a trickle-down effect as Saint Andrew’s has seen a surge in couples play and family golf. More women are playing in tournaments, both within the club and in the Met Area. Many women — both members and the spouses of members — are taking up the game for the first time.
The result of this advocacy has been a huge surge in business. Women’s rounds have tripled in the past 10 years.
“We think we’ve cracked the code of women’s engagement,” says Atal. “We’re seeing the effects everywhere, from the locker room to the dining room. It’s made a big difference in the social success of the club, our participation in local tournaments and in putting Saint Andrew’s at the forefront of member equality in the Met Area. Every one of us, male and female, is incredibly proud of what we’re doing and what we’ve already accomplished.”