Are all-male golf clubs necessarily a bad thing?

We all applauded when Augusta National opened Magnolia Lane to women.

And now we're all jeering the decision of the (less than) Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield to retain its all-male membership policy. The Scottish club's decision prompted the R&A — golf's governing body outside of the United States and Mexico — to remove the spectacular Muirfield course from the British Open rotation.

"golf nil, neanderthals one," is how esteemed Scottish golf writer John Huggan put it on Twitter.

Don't confuse this for an anti-political-correctness rant, but I'm here to tell you that men's clubs are not a bad thing. At least in some cases.

The Chicago area is home to about a quarter of the nation's all-male golf clubs. There's Butler National in west suburban Oak Brook, Black Sheep in far west Sugar Grove and two in Highland Park: Bob O'Link and Old Elm. Each has a completely different vibe and reason for existence.

Butler National was built to host top-notch tournaments and provide an entertainment vehicle for its flush-with-dough members.

Black Sheep is a links-style gem, a pure golf club whose members value male bonding and minimalism, eschewing the snobbishness prevalent at some country clubs. Finances are at the root of the club's all-male philosophy. Members won't spend a dime on a swimming pool or fine china but get giddy over a bunker renovation project.

Bob O'Link is the manliest of them all, a club of serious drinking and relaxed rules. Members might no longer eat steak sandwiches while wearing a towel, but if five of them want to take five golf carts and play fast, they probably can.

Old Elm is gorgeous, better than half the courses on Golf Digest's 100 Greatest Courses. But the older, low-key membership values its privacy.

Of the four, I believe only Butler National is foolish to say no to women. Its all-male policy cost it the Western Open (and future BMW Championship) starting in 1991, and it's why USGA officials, seeking a U.S. Open venue in the Midwest, were so quick to embrace Wisconsin's Erin Hills.

Medinah and Olympia Fields can make a case, but Butler National is the only perfect U.S. Open venue in the state, thanks to its demonic layout, perfect conditioning, central location and lack of affiliation with the PGA of America (PGA Championship, Ryder Cup).

It could secure its financial future by adding a handful of female members, freeing the publicity-concerned corporate community to book lucrative Monday outings.

Instead, its stubbornness deprives Chicago-area golf fans of witnessing the crowning of our national champion, just as Muirfield's decision now precludes it from hosting a British Open.

That could change, though. Muirfield already permits women to visit the course and enter the clubhouse, just as Augusta National allowed women to play there long before welcoming in Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members in 2012. Perhaps that's a precursor.

And given that 64 percent of Muirfield members voted to add women (just shy of the two-thirds needed), here's guessing that public pressure will tilt the club in the proper direction.

My take is that unless a club can host a tournament and thus do something for the game and the public, I see nothing wrong with men's clubs.

Just as there's nothing wrong with Wellesley or Smith colleges.

tgreenstein@tribpub.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
25°