Open the door to Cork Golf Club, walk past the leather chairs that appear rarely used, the visitor’s book on a pedestal, the long boards of past Captains and Presidents, study the pictures lining the hallway of this premier parkland club. Walk on past the glass cabinets full of imposing silver trophies ranging from massive silver chalices to a very beautiful bird in Lladro glass. The message hangs in the air this is a club with a distinguished history.
It was founded in 1888. The original course was designed by the great A McKenzie who also designed Augusta National and the Royal Melbourne. It was upgraded to PGA Championship standard in 2013. It boasts of some truly great players beginning with Jimmy Bruen.
It is also some people’s local golf club.
There is a second message as you walk through this elegant club; this is male territory. It’s discernible in the crowding of men in the bar, the apparent blindness of men to the lady members around them. This is the club where once a group of indignant lady members complained to the Management Committee that, as they were sitting on the balcony drinking tea, they were shocked by the bad language used by the men on the green below. The Management Committee responded to their formal complaint; ladies were banned from sitting on the balcony.
Maeve Hickey is the Ladies Captain. She is the wife of Peter Hickey who has been the Professional at Cork for 21 years. Maeve Hyland is the present President. Both of them and the other women I met talked about the quietly acknowledged male dominance in the club and the awkwardness and ill- fitting changes in relationships and membership as the aftershocks of the equality laws.
Before the Big Change, the women accepted the way things were; they had their Associate Lady Members day every week, they could play at weekends if there was not a competition. As Associates they paid E5000. They were irritated to discover that if they wanted to continue as members, they must upgrade to Full Members paying a E10,000 entry fee and an Annual subscription of E1700.
As one said, “And what do I get for my E10,000 that I didn’t have before? Not a lot; the right to vote at the AGM.”
Maeve Hyland has been a member for many years and loves the club and the course. She is unable to play now due to a back injury. As President of the Ladies Section, she worries about membership numbers. “For the men this is a fantastic club. It offers them sport, social contact. For the ladies it is different now. Before we paid £5000 as Associates. Many of our members are old, new ones look at the E10,000 entrance fee and think carefully. We are surrounded by excellent clubs like Fota which offer more for less. Equality brought changes which many women and men didn’t want. We had no option. Our numbers are dwindling.” Unspoken the thought continued. Has equality brought any benefits to the Lady Members?
And then she spoke of the course and the quarry; the famous quarry where many players say they would like to be buried. Later I found out why.