Golf: Local club owner sees no impact from Augusta decision
BY MITCH DUDEK Sun-Times Media August 20, 2012 11:04PM
Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove is located near the intersection of Interstate 88 and Route 47. | File photo
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:29AM
Now that Augusta National Golf Club has decided to bring the shoulders in on their famed green jackets to fit a woman’s frame, will the four Chicago area courses that still prohibit female members also change their ways?
Speaking on behalf of the men’s only Black Sheep Golf Club in Sugar Grove, club president Vince Solano said Monday, “I doubt very much that will ever happen here.”
Solano was unaffected by the decision of Augusta National brass in Georgia to dissolve its longstanding gender barrier and admit former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore as members.
“They’re big boys and they can choose what they choose to do,” Solano said. “We like our environment. It’s a nice getaway, there’s no worries, we don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves. And when you play golf with men it’s just kind of a different feeling…you can kind of lose yourself for a while,” Solano said. “There’s a market for that.”
“We’re not trying to hide from it, and we don’t see anything wrong with it. And I would certainly debate anyone who disagrees,” Solano said.
Representatives from the three other area men-only clubs — Old Elm and Bob O’Link, both in Highland Park, and Butler National in Oak Brook — did not return phone calls Monday.
The 80-year-old Augusta National Golf Course hosts the Masters — golf’s most watched tournament — and has long been a bastion of prestige, exclusivity and controversy.
Former Augusta Chairman Hootie Johnson said in 2003 — under pressure from women’s rights groups — that women might one day be accepted, but he would not admit women “at the point of a bayonet.”
Johnson’s tone is in contrast with current Augusta Chairman Billy Payne, who on Monday called the admittance of female members a “joyous occasion.” Augusta National, which outfits its members with green jackets, will present Rice and Moore their garments this fall when the club opens.
The club had maintained a men only membership, but women were permitted to play the course — a privilege not extended at the men-only clubs in the Chicago area — where “men only” can extend from the golf course to the parking lot.
Augusta National’s hallmark decision offers new hope to female golfers in the area. Carly Schneider, a junior on Loyola University Chicago’s women’s golf team, hopes one day to tee off at Butler National, which has considered changing its policy to land a major tournament. “It would be amazing to play at Butler. I’ve heard so many good things from my dad and cousins who have played there — and I haven’t been able to,” said Schneider, who grew up in Elgin.
“I am not angry I can’t play golf somewhere, and I don’t want to make a big issue of it. I’d rather be welcomed versus saying ‘I have to play here! I’m so upset I can’t play here!’ ” said Schneider. “There are women who can play as competitively as men who would be good additions to these clubs. It’s a matter of time.”
Diana Ditka, an avid golfer and wife of legendary Bears coach Mike Ditka, sees things differently.
“I don’t think they should allow woman,” said Diana Ditka, whose husband belongs to the men only Bob O’Link.
“It is what it is. It never bothers me in the least. I don’t understand why people don’t leave well enough alone sometimes. It’s like trying to make somebody love you,” she said.
“Mike and I play together a lot in Florida in the winter, up to five times a week, and he has no qualms about women on the golf course, but a lot of men do, because it’s a man’s world,” said Ditka.
“Some of these rules are from the 1800s and they don’t want women on the golf course period. And there are just some things that just will never change in my lifetime pertaining to women and golf,” she said.
The Black Sheep Golf Club, at 2S610 Seavey Road in Sugar Grove, is a 27-hole facility on 285 acres of what once was farmland.
In a 2007 interview, owner Solano said they’ve never dodged the club’s men-only stance.
“We don’t apologize for it, never have,” Solano said. “We’re not doing it to avoid women. We’re doing it to just simply concentrate on the game of golf.”
Stephanie Lulay contributed to this story.