Supporting Why Clubs Exist

NCA's Response to Sports Illustrated

Published Friday, July 12, 2019
by Henry Wallmeyer

Michael McCann was right to describe private clubs as valuable institutions in his recent Sports Illustrated article “Why Private Golf Clubs Are Legally Still Able to Discriminate Against Women.” He was also correct when he wrote that “many have helped men and women build friendships and cultivate lasting personal and professional relationships.” I would add that private clubs have also played important economic and social roles in their local communities, and continue to do so.

 The gist of Mr. McCann’s piece is that private clubs have a right to “discriminate” because they are private. While I certainly agree that clubs are well within their rights to manage their memberships as they see fit, I disagree that this practice represents discrimination. In a sense, clubs are merely a reflection of how we all tend to build lasting relationships. Each of us chooses to connect with others who share our interests and values. That’s what clubs are: places where like-minded people can gather to socialize or engage in recreational activities.

There are all types of clubs. We are most familiar with clubs that revolve around golf, tennis, boating or other recreational activities, but there are also clubs for magicians, comedians and business people. There are also clubs built around religious affiliation, political affiliations, alma maters and even social issues. These are not discriminating practices, but the right to associate through expressive activity. Mr. McCann’s article focuses on men-only clubs, but there are numerous women-only clubs in the U.S., with more opening each year. Should these clubs face the same existential threat as the Muirfields of the world, with members losing the ability to congregate in a safe and comfortable environment?

Today, private clubs tend to be more diverse, family oriented and contemporary than our grandparents’—or even parents’—clubs. As America has grown progressively more diverse, so have America’s private clubs. But just as we are selective about whom we befriend in our day-to-day lives, so do clubs have the right—even the responsibility—to be selective when choosing members.

Henry Wallmeyer
President & CEO
National Club Association

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