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Why Members Locker Rooms Are a Good Thing

By: | Mon 10 Feb 2020 | Comments

Among the many things that struck me about the last golf club I played at – one of the Royal venues – was the elegance of its locker room and particularly its members lockers. The former was daubed in teak or some other hard, burnished wood, tastefully laid out and expertly wrought. The latter were forged of more of the same, but ornately patterned. Each locker was fitted with a neat gold plaque, into which was stencilled the member who owned its name. The atmosphere was of a Victorian smoking club or an Edwardian living room. Suffice to say I adored it.

20 years ago, locker rooms like this were commonplace, but now there can be barely a handful of them – real, old-school establishments, I mean – in the UK, and I think this is a crying shame. There are, of course, many sensible reasons to despise members lockers and the exclusive, gentleman-only culture they represent. One of these is that ‘exclusive’ is too often a synonym for ‘exclusionary’. If there’s an in-club, there must also be an ‘out’ and, in our increasingly socially conscious society, where equality and social justice is a prime value, it is difficult to defend these old ways.

But let me have a go. First, by evoking their aesthetic value, and by noting that many of the people who cry out most shrilly against traditional locker rooms and their culture, have little experience of them and often, have not even set foot in one in all their lives. Critics of personalised lockers and elaborately daubed locker rooms frequently paint the experience of setting foot in these hallowed domains as a non-member as deflating and alienating. However, that hasn’t been mine. Instead, I find the sight of a clubby locker room innervating and inspiring. I love the look of them, the feel, the antiques roadshow atmosphere. I even appreciate the feel of community, albeit one that, as a visitor rather than a member, I am only distantly and temporarily a part of.

(The Locker Room at Kingsbarns Golf Links)

In our current coltish and uncertain times, community doesn’t have the appeal it once did. Certainly anyone taking even a cursory glance at golf club membership rates – falling like an exquisitely pitched short iron to a claggy green – can see that golfers increasingly value flexibility over traditional club membership and have a more fluid relationship with them than they used to. In some ways, I applaud this trend, but in other ways, I regret what is lost. A while ago, I asked a friend what golf club he was planning to join when he finished his studies (we were at university at the time). “I think I’ll join XXX,” he replied, the club in question being a vintage and very old-style establishment on a UK coast. Neither of us were fans of golf’s stuffier side, so I pressed him on what made him say this. The answer was simple: “It’s the community,” he said. “I want to be a member of the kind of club where everyone knows my name and I can play bridge every Wednesday.” At its best the humble club locker is a key part of forging these bonds.

There are also a battery of more humble, quotidian reasons why we should protect and encourage members lockers. They save on the endless ferrying of bags to and from clubs. They provide a handy place to store suits for formal dinners. But it’s the personal touch and community they help create that is the most important reason we should give our support. A real, old-style club locker is not only a thing of beauty, but a communal rallying point, bringing people together through a shared passion. The traditional members locker should be celebrated, not vilified, and more clubs should add them to changing rooms.

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Tags: Opinion Memberships Golf Clubs

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