Pine Valley, the exclusive men’s-only golf club in southern New Jersey and home to the No.1-ranked golf course in the United States, voted to allow female members and unrestricted women’s play for the first time in its 108 years.
The news was announced to all members in an emailed letter on April 30 that was obtained by Golf Digest. “This evening at our Annual Meeting of the Members we made a historic change to Pine Valley’s bylaws,” wrote club president Jim Davis. “The future of golf must move towards inclusion, and I am pleased to report that the Trustees and members of the Pine Valley Golf Club have voted unanimously and with enthusiasm to remove all gender-specific language from our bylaws.
“The club’s policies will now allow all guests to enjoy our club without restrictions and we will begin immediately identifying women candidates for membership with the expectation of having our first women members in the club by the end of this year. As has been our custom, all prospective candidates must be socially compatible, share a deep passion for the game of golf, and be able to play the golf course with the skill level our founder George Crump intended.”
This change follows the lifting of historic gender restrictions at other men’s golf clubs in recent years. Augusta National, host of the Masters, accepted women members for the first time in 2012, almost a decade after the protests of Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organisations. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, holder of the Open Championship, voted to allow women members in 2014 for the first time in its 260-year history. And Muirfield in Scotland, home of The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and host of 16 Opens, voted to accept women members in 2017. All four golf clubs are considered private, but what separates Pine Valley is that it doesn’t hold Major championships or “open” events of any kind. Out of 3,670 private golf clubs in the US today, fewer than a dozen remain men’s only.
Women guests at Pine Valley were previously allowed to play the course only on Sunday afternoons. The most noticeable immediate change will be in the presence of women on the course at any time.
Some observers both inside and outside the game will criticise the club for taking too long to include women. In his letter to the membership, Davis took a measured tone in writing: “On a personal note, I have been thinking about this for a long time and, frankly, it’s overdue. Several years ago, I was playing golf in our Spring Members’ weekend with our late fellow member and friend Jack Vardaman. During the round we discussed this very topic and as we were walking through the woods to our tee shots on the 15th hole, Jack said something to me that I have never forgotten. He said, ‘Remember, we don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.’
“We are not changing the things we love most about Pine Valley. We are simply continuing down the path of making our Club more inclusive. We want to be proud of Pine Valley in all respects, and I’m convinced this change puts us on the right side of history.”
When contacted, a spokesman for Pine Valley declined to comment further citing the private nature of the club.
Pine Valley’s course, designed by Crump and Harry Colt, covers more than 600 acres of rugged pine land and is extremely difficult, maybe the hardest course in the country. Golf Digest ranks it not only No.1 in America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, but it’s also No.1 in Golf Digest’s criterion known as “Challenge,” with many forced carries, an abundance of sand and severe hazards on every hole.
The club was founded in 1913 by Crump, a Philadelphia hotelier, with the purpose of creating a challenging test of the area’s best gentlemen golfers and providing competition and practice in all four seasons. The historian Andrew Mutch’s book, Crump’s Dream, details the origins of the club as a training ground for Philadelphia golfers wanting to better compete against amateurs from New York, Boston and Chicago. As early as 1914, the legendary architect Donald Ross was quoted as saying of Pine Valley: “This is the finest golf course in America.”
The club struggled in the early years and, in fact, when Crump died in 1918 was saved from bankruptcy by his sister Helen Crump Street. According to club minutes in 1924, quoted in Mutch’s book, she personally forgave loans that made up “a great part of the heavy burden of debt” and was rewarded with an honorary life membership. So technically, Pine Valley has had a woman member before, but the move to open the club to female members this year will be more far-reaching and consequential.