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Len Ziehm On Golf

Don’t expect Butler National to allow women members soon

Every few years, it seems, somebody in Butler National Golf Club’s membership suggests that the all-male facility may be willing to accept women as members, thereby making it possible for big-time golf to be played in Oak Brook again.
Citing “industry sources,’’ that same old story surfaced again in a Chicago newspaper this week. Such reports give the club, off the world golf stage since the Western Open moved to Cog Hill in 1991, a publicity boost, but that’s about all.
Until Butler’s membership takes a vote to allow women — and the measure passes — there’s no reason to give such reports any validity. And such a vote isn’t even in the works.
While Butler president Ed Gustafson has taken a no-comment stance on the latest report, a long-time Butler staff member who wished to remain anonymous told me “This is just another story that has come up before. It’s nothing new. It’s pure speculation. There’s not a story from our side.’’
And that well-placed staffer didn’t think such a vote would even be considered “for a long, long time.’’
Some historical perspective is in order here.
Butler’s opening in the early 1970s was big news. The super-tough layout provided a “permanent’’ home for the PGA Tour’s oldest tournament. The WGA moved the Western there in 1974, a year too early based on the course’s condition at the time. But the tourney was staged there for 17 years and produced some exciting championships.
No doubt some Butler members miss those good old days. Hosting the Western put their club in the spotlight. But, when PGA Tour and U.S. Golf Assn. then objected to its exclusionary membership policies, Butler gave up the Western after its 1990 staging and put itself out of contention for even bigger, more lucrative, events like the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup matches.
Cog Hill, in Lemont, became the Western Open site in 1991. Now Cog’s future as as a tournament site is in doubt, perhaps leading to the speculation that Butler might be in the running with the Western Golf Assn. to host the Western’s successor, the BMW Championship.
Cog Hill’s recent $5 million renovation wasn’t well-received by PGA Tour players, a group of whom rated the layout 46th of 52 tournament venues in a recent GolfWorld magazine poll. The BMW will be played at Crooked Stick near Indianapolis this year and might return to the Chicago area in 2013, but it’s highly unlikely the site would be Butler even then.
“If the membership policy changes the BMW Championship would be interested, because it’s a good golf course,’’ said Vince Pellegrino, the BMW tournament director. “But we’ve had no discussions with them and haven’t heard anything.’’
He called the recent report of a membership change of heart “the same thing we’ve heard before.’’
The BMW’s future, though, seems in limbo. Immediately after Cog Hill hosted the 2011 championship in September Pellegrino said an announcement of the site for the 2013 tourney would be made in a matter of weeks.
Four months have past, and Pellegrino said an announcement will have to wait at least another three-four weeks. Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, is the heavy favorite but Pellegrino said no deal has been done. Conway is the Chicago home course of Luke Donald, the world’s No. 1-ranked player.
Killing off the possibility of Chicago returning as an annual PGA Tour site, the WGA slated the 2014 BMW for Cherry Hills in Denver and a return to Chicago in 2015 is not sure thing, either. Harding Park, in San Francisco, is reportedly in the running for the tourney that year.
As for Butler’s return to the big-time, the membership issue is paramount. The club, though, did bring in a top architect, Tom Fazio, to renovate the course in 2005 and two prominent touring pros, Jeff Sluman and Mark Wilson, practice there.