Butler National votes to keep women out [Chicago Tribune]By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Nov. 20--Augusta National has added female members, but Butler National Golf Club will keep its doors closed to women. At least for now.
Sources told the Tribune that the club's recent vote on the issue -- the first of its kind in club history -- revealed a strong preference for the status quo.
Even if Butler could have been guaranteed a major tournament by changing its membership policy, fewer than 40 percent of the members voted to open the iconic Oak Brook club to women. (Seventy-five percent was needed to change the policy.)
That status will continue to preclude it from vying to host events such as the U.S. Open, BMW Championship and Ryder Cup.
Sources said the decision puts the club in a precarious financial state. A membership decline, in part due to business executives resigning because of the all-male stigma, means the club will have to increase annual dues and perhaps lower initiation fees for national members.
"We're in a death spiral," said one member of the club's future.
Industry analysts believe Butler National is the perfect Chicago venue to host a major because of its west suburban location, ample room for parking and hospitality suites and the fact that Golf Digest rates it 54th on its "100 Greatest" list and Illinois' toughest course.
A U.S. Open could generate more than $4 million for the club, industry analysts say, and Monday corporate outings would bring in a consistent flow of cash.
But those voting against adding women apparently like the all-male feel of the 20,000-foot clubhouse, which was not designed to accommodate women.
And politics are at play. Club President Ed Gustafson is a disciple of Don Kelly, a former club president and key figure in the club's growth who was adamant about an all-male membership.
Reached Monday by telephone, Gustafson declined to comment.
Butler National hosted the Western Open from 1974 to 1990, but after the 1990 Shoal Creek controversy -- the public decried the club's discrimination against African-Americans -- the USGA, PGA Tour, LPGA and PGA of America required private clubs that host events to adopt non-discriminatory admissions practices.
Butler National remains a top-level course, with Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald among the PGA Tour pros hoping it would host a major championship.
Mickelson played there in 2010 and told the Tribune in April: "What I loved about Butler were the subtleties: where the balls break, the risk-reward, the ability to get to certain pins, the challenge of making pars on the hard holes, the challenge of making birdies on the easy holes."
For Butler members hoping the club will add women, that might be the greatest challenge of all.
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