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Butler National Member After Members Vote To Keep Women-Americans Out: "We're in a death spiral."

Teddy Greenstein on the membership at Butler National voting overwhelmingly to keep it a male only club, something first revealed as a possibility back in Feburary. The vote eliminates the Chicago layout from any consideration for major tournaments.

Even more shocking is the the club's "precarious financial state" after a 2004 Tom Fazio redo and membership decline.

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.

The course dropped from 37th to 54th in Golf Digest's most recent list of the top 100 American courses.

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Reader Comments (29)

This will change when Hillary is president in 2016. By the way what are the membership dues at such a prestigious clib?
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSergio
How dare they have a right to set their own membership policy.
The members are getting what they deserve. Yes they have the right to set their own policies but they are archaic ones. Furthermore, it's not exactly a fun member course; who wants to get kicked in the head 18 times?
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSari
So admitting women members will stop the death spiral?
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
How many women golfers could play this monster anyway? I heard from a young player that they were recruiting members; I think he declined.

Too bad the Trib hides such news behind a pay wall. what's up with that?
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterMedia maven
I looked at their most recently available 990 and it certainly did not paint a "precarious" picture. Solidly in the black on an operating basis, employees looked to be compensated in an appropriate manner (not overpaid), they did have some debt ($1.65mm vs. $2.0mm the prior year) put it was being reduced and certainly looked manageable and is WAY less than I see at a lot of clubs.

Do keep in mind that for whatever reason many golf clubs seem to delay the release of 990's so the most recent form we can access for Butler is for the 2009 fiscal year. The "2004 Fazio re-do" looks to be waaaaaay back in the rear view mirror and there's no reason they would have had to take on additional debt in 2010-2011 related to that project. Again, I don't have access to any numbers for 2010-11-12 and it's possible they fell off a cliff but given the type of membership a place like that has I'd be surprised if that happened.

The wildcard is the number of members and the trends there. I was unable to access the linked article so dont know if the author gave any specific numbers on member levels. If they were operating with a very low number of total members, say 200, and that rapidly dropped to 100, sure could be a real problem. But seriously, how much trouble would they have signing up 100 guys for free to start paying dues immediately? All in my gut tells me this situation is quite manageable and presumably the Butler membership is reasonably sophisticated, on the "death spiral" scale Butler looks to be a low risk situation in my opinion...

...sure sounds like the vote went against the guy who suggests the sky is falling ;)

PS...of all the clubs I am familiar with, and it's a reasonably long list, I can only think of one that has no concerns about memberships trends. It's a struggle out there for virtually ALL clubs and 99% are facing some stark operating decisions. Stay conservative people and don't let the consultants talk you into spending a ton of money to attract new members!!!!
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
PPS...that one club is men-only.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Their club....their rules.

No one else's business.

Except the busybodies.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterStanley Thompson
I'm a big believer in equal access...
That said, the reason they are losing members has nothing to do with that policy.
It has everything to do with the golf course.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan Andrew
Boring track....Thank goodness we'll be spared from watching 4 days of golf on it.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterHilltop
I will be to first to say: I will donate $200 to their club, if the club will let me play without a caddie and member.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered Commentersidvicius
Hilltop...I realize that is your opinion, but to say Butler is a boring track...what do you think of places like Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Medinah, etc that have much less variation of holes?
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Did the Form 990s mention that the course is even harder than it was before and not much of a joy to play?
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterOB
OB, I know nothing about the course! But that sort of thing certainly factors into the stay/leave decision a member might be pondering. I know of another course that did a fantastic restoration of their spectacular Donald Ross track and as a part of the re-do they took out all the cart paths except a little bit around some tees and greens. The combination of increased difficulty (steep slopes around greens, etc) and lack of carts after even a little bit of rain has had a detrimental effect on membership trends, especially amongst members that are a little older.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Bobby D: As a private club, they have the right to remain "men only." Nevertheless, that decision has consequences in a variety of ways.
1) There are potential members that will not join any exclusionary clubs;
2) There are corporations that will not pay for memberships at exclusionary clubs for their executives; and
3) They don't have any shot at hosting a major.

If they want to accept the consequences, that is their choice.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Ford
LOL! I know of many Clubs that are going through the same thing regardless of the "Men Only" membership. Unfortunately Clubs are willing to spend "idiotic" amounts of money to build courses just to put a "name" architect" on said course. Eventually to struggle to find members to join for unreasonable fees.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterViz
I understand the downside for sticking to the "men only" thing, but to suggest that this is the cause off loss of membership or lack of growth is ridiculous. Many, many old, traditional private clubs across the country are going broke and all of them have allowed women for years. To sum up: not allowing women members is no recipe for disaster, and allowing women members is no recipe for success.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
Funny you say that, DTF. There's a historic Ross course in Sarasota that had the same reaction after a restoration. As a boney myself having played it before and after, they should be very thankful for what they have. I jump whenever I get the chance to play it. Hell, Robert Tyre never complained about it. Even after he received what he called "the worst drubbing in his career" at the hands of Hagen.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
The member who gave the "death spiral" quote should be expelled. Personally, I think Butler should allow women, because the natural mission of the club is to host national championships and professional tournaments. They could host a US Open without breaking a sweat, logistically and in terms of the challenge of the golf course. The course is way too tough for us mere mortals, but it makes a lot of sense as a regular professional host, which they can't do with the gender exclusion. Having said that, it is their club, their bylaws and they can do what they want. As for the death spiral, it's a bunch of baloney. Butler may want new and younger members, but what private club doesn't? They have a healthy membership that is full of very wealthy men. They aren't in any trouble. The jackass who allowed himself to be quoted anonymously ought to be in trouble, but that is another question.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
@Steve My thoughts about Butler are related to years of watching the Western Open on TV. It's just not a very interesting course in my opinion. If the courses you mentioned were shown annually, I certainly could have the same opinion regarding them.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterHilltop
After any club meeting you can always find one member walking out the door with a "death spiral" quote, regardless of the issue discussed.
Not to repeat myself, but if they are losing members (and DTF and others have pointed out that this may not be the case) I have to imagine it's because that course is so f-ing hard. Give me Chicago Golf anyday over Butler, which makes Medinah feel like an executive course.
11.20.2012 | Unregistered CommenterSari
Clearly they are just copying the Church of England Synod Bishops Club at Church House Westminster which also rejected women members this week.
Anyone who judges the quality of a golf course by how it looks on tv is a moron. Golf course look totally different on tv than they really are. No one knows anything about how a golf course plays by watching it on tv. Only morons claim they can.
11.21.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyder
@Sergio I think Elizabeth Warren will be the next POTUS.
11.21.2012 | Unregistered CommenterBobby D
Ryder, I happen to disagree, in totality, with your statement, but will refrain from name-calling.
11.21.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Matre
@Ryder I was commenting on my original post which stated that I had no desire to watch a tour event at Butler on television...It had nothing to do with how it plays. I take it that you've played Butler or are a Butler member?
11.21.2012 | Unregistered CommenterHilltop
I partly agree with the sentiment of what Ryder has said, I think judging a course by what you see on TV is not a smart thing to do, I disagree with the way he said it. I also disagree with the notion that all the clubs' 'supposed' problems are because of the golf course and could or would be solved by a differently designed course. There will be the odd member who leaves or joins because of the exact specifics of the course, but it will not be the kinds of numbers that mean the difference between survival and failure. To say so assuredly that the club would lose more members because of the course than because of an exclusionary policy is faulty - IMO.
11.21.2012 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
Well, Robert, you are a prince for not name-calling, but you are dead wrong about judging a golf course by how it shows up on television. For instance, TV does not begin to capture elevation changes. The single thing one hears from someone who attends that Masters is, "Man oh man, 18 is straight uphill! I never knew how hilly ANCC is!". And the Masters is the most popular TV event in golf. But everyone comes back saying TV does not begin to capture ANCC.

TV is two dimensional and cannot begin to capture the three dimensional aspect of golf courses.....and elevation changes are a course's DNA.

TV cannot capture sightlines of trees, bunkers, ponds etc faced by players off the tee and out of the fairway and completely miss the challenges placed by the designer. TV cannot capture the trajectory of the shots used by players to deal with those challenges.

TV did not come close to showing Kiawah as it appears to players.

I still remember the knowing insiders here who repeated the line that they HATE the P Cup but will be THRILLED to watch the event to see Royal Melbourne. If you are watching an event on TV to learn about the course, you are wasting your time.
11.22.2012 | Unregistered CommenterRyder

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