The most exclusive golf course in New Jersey may be very exclusive.
The state filed a civil rights complaint against the Pine Valley Golf Club on Wednesday, alleging a “pattern of gender discrimination” by the historically male-dominated club in its membership, public accommodations, employment, and restricted housing opportunities to live in. The course is offered to members only.
According to the eight-page administrative complaint, the state attorney general’s office alleged that Pine Valley violated New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law by preventing women from joining club membership and restricting their ability to golf and access to club facilities.
Officials said those policies were only relaxed after the state launched an investigation.
“Sexism has no place in New Jersey,” Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a statement.
Club officials did not respond to calls, texts or emails seeking comment. But Pine Valley told state investigators it had lifted all restrictions on membership and use of its facilities based on gender or gender by the spring of 2021 after the Civil Rights Division began its investigation.
Pine Valley, located in Camden County about 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia, is considered among the greatest golf courses in the world. Golf Digest describes its location in the pine fields of southwest Jersey—designed in 1912 by George Crump, a Philadelphia hotelier—as demanding and “unparalleled.”
Over the decades, it has carried its unique exclusivity as part of its charm. It still has not disclosed its members, which New Jersey officials said number about 700. They include former presidents, celebrities, business leaders and their friends. To join, one must be invited. Visitors may play with a member only. The stories of famous golfers like Tom Watson being turned away at the gate are legendary.
From its founding more than 108 years ago until about April 2021, the club barred women from joining the club and – with very narrow exceptions – barred them from playing golf or accessing the club’s facilities, the state accused in its complaint.
As of July 2021, the club said the club had reported accepting only three women as members, representing less than 0.5% of its members.
In fact, women were not even allowed into the property.
As a private club, Pine Valley has long lived under the premise that it is legally entitled to choose who it wants to be recognized. Federal laws do not regulate private membership clubs with respect to their membership policies.
In announcing the complaint, state officials acknowledged that private clubs are clearly exempt from anti-discrimination law protections from discrimination in public accommodations. But they said an exception could be made in connection with the Pine Valley Bay Club because the club was closely associated with the former Pine Valley area.
The borough was a legally registered municipality of New Jersey in which all the land was owned by the golf club and served no other purpose than as a custodian of the club. Basically, the club was the town.
Pine Valley, the town, merged into neighboring Pine Hill at the beginning of 2022.
The complaint alleged that the club used discriminatory restrictive covenants to prevent women from owning homes on club grounds unless they had a home with a man.
Under the club’s rules, only members were allowed to purchase any of the nineteen homes located around the golf course. Until recently, only men were accepted as members. This means that women were not allowed to purchase any of these homes, which could give Pine Valley perhaps the most restrictive housing policy in the state.
Documents obtained by NJ Advance Media last year revealed that the state’s investigation, which dates back to at least 2019, initially began examining those housing practices, but also raised questions about employment practices, including the lack of women in the police force.
The complaint indicated that recruitment relied primarily on word of mouth referrals from the club’s predominantly male workforce, resulting in the hiring of men almost exclusively. Officials said only six of the club’s 159 employees are women.
Rosemary DeSavino, deputy director of the Civil Rights Division, said the anti-discrimination law prohibits policies and practices aimed at excluding people who identify as women.
“Failure to provide equal opportunities for people of all genders in housing, employment and public housing has consequences,” she said in a statement.
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