Patricia Davies, a talented writer and delightfully eccentric individual from Ireland now residing in England, was discussing what ails private golf clubs. Truth be told, Patricia doesn't so much discuss as she does expound, but just as truthfully, she is a woman of keen insight and brutal honesty. She tosses ideas by the handful, and among the pebbles are frequent pearls.
We were sitting at an outdoor restaurant in Evian-les-Bains, France with her husband, Dai Davies, a grumpy Welshman who, sadly, is no longer with us, enjoying lake perch and wine. When Patricia shifted into full emoting mode, Dai's head would tilt forward, his shoulders would rise nearly to his ears and his scowl would fix on his wine glass, which he would grasp with both hands.
"If I were captain of a golf club and I could make one unilateral change," Patricia frumped, "I would get rid of the dress code. Try it for two years. I think you would find it would not be the end of civilization as we know it and that perhaps the club would thrive. Clubs want new members, but they want them to live by old rules. Rubbish."
Dai made a noise somewhat akin to a car engine trying to turn over on a cold morning and after a serious sip of his wine allowed the corners of his mouth to turn up in a repressed smile betrayed by the twinkle in his eyes. "Precisely," he said, in what amounted to voluminous praise from a man who dispensed words only after careful consideration. "Well played."
That dinner several years back comes to mind now because the current economy has placed many golf clubs—both private and public—under increased financial pressures. Still, many of those who run clubs look to the past for solutions instead of embracing the present as the pathway to the future. They need look no further than the new First Golfer.
The folks who reacted negatively when they saw President Obama recently playing golf in Hawaii while wearing cargo shorts have to realize they are not defenders of the faith but rather barriers to growth. What sense does it make for clubs to beckon new, younger members with one hand while holding them at bay with the other in which there is a list of what they cannot wear?
This is not a call for cutoff blue jeans and tank tops, but it is a reminder that a golf club should be a relaxing place that embraces casual attire. And there is no reason a club cannot be a trendy place in which young people feel they can be themselves.
Just about all of the outfits Natalie Gulbis wears in LPGA events would fail the dress code of just about all clubs. There is something wrong with that. If professional golfers are trying to expand the fashion frontiers of their sport, why should that creativity end at the front gate of private clubs?
Patricia would not wear a Gulbis skort to her club, nor would Dai have donned cargo shorts to play golf—or to do anything for that matter. But they possessed minds keen enough not to prevent others from doing so.
The good thing about bad times is that they force us to think about things anew. Now is not the time for decisions made by rote. Abbreviated skorts and cargo shorts might spell the end of club life as we know it—and perhaps that's a good thing. Let's rethink dress codes and make golf clubs places young people want to hang out. They pay dues, too.