Oct 26 2020

A Conversation With Dan Caruso About Gender Equity at the Boulder Country Club

Update: on 11/1, I wrote an update post titled Progress on the Discussion Around Gender Equity at the Boulder Country Club. It gives more context on the progress in the past week around this discussion along with some additional context on the motivation for this post.

Initially, I took this post down, which I rarely do. I then got negative feedback about taking the post down. Since I rarely take posts down, I decided to put it back up with this introduction. If you are seeing this post now, please also read Progress on the Discussion Around Gender Equity at the Boulder Country Club.


Brad:  Hey, Dan. Like Cindy and you, Amy and I are Boulder Country Club members, but we play tennis, not golf. Is it true that only men can golf on Saturday mornings?

Dan: Yes. Believe it or not, you must indeed be male to golf on Saturday mornings. There are a few exceptions. During the winter season, women can golf on Saturday mornings. Women can also use the 9-hole Par 3 course on Saturday mornings all year round.

Brad:  Wow. Really? Women aren’t allowed to golf on the main course on Saturday mornings except during winter months?

Dan: Yes.

Brad:  That’s disappointing. Why is the policy of men-only golf on Saturday mornings still in place?

Dan: That’s a good question, Brad. I’m embarrassed to say that I never gave it much thought until recently. The past few months’ events have led us all to soul search on equity, with the primary focus being racial equity. As I reflected, I began to consider this BCC policy. It was very spontaneous. The thought came to me, and I challenged myself to bring it up to the Board Chairperson and the General Manager.

Brad:  I understand a fellow venture capitalist is Board Chair. I don’t know the GM. Did you approach them?  

Dan: Yes. I had a Zoom call with them in August, and we had an email exchange in the subsequent days.

Brad:  What did they say?

Dan: They said this issue had been brought up only once in the past 20 years. They seemed surprised that this would be viewed as a gender equity matter. They pointed out that women leagues get exclusive use of the club during blocks of time on Tuesday and Thursday morning while men get exclusive use during Tuesday evening for a men’s league and Saturday morning for men’s only usage. They said they checked with some women golfers and that they preferred this setup. 

Brad:  That sounds like an episode of Mad Men.

Dan: Mad Men was a great series. It illustrated how much the norms of one generation would give way to a more progressive era. I figured now that Saturday golf for men only was surfaced, it would get quickly on a path to change this relic from our past.

Brad:  Did they address it?

Dan: Not yet. And, to be honest, it is unclear whether they will. They are positioning this as a golf tee time preference instead of a gender equity issue. They believe most golfers might prefer the current format, where women get the course during certain weekdays and Saturday mornings are exclusive to men. 

Brad:  Amy and I are members of BCC. This is the first we are hearing about this issue. Do we get to weigh in?

Dan: As I understand it, they are preparing a general survey that they plan to send only to golfers.

Brad: I view this as a gender equity issue that pertains to all members of BCC. Does BCC have a gender equity policy?

Dan: I raised this question but have not yet received a complete answer. I’m told the application process includes statements of equity. I’ve asked if there is a statement in the Bylaws or elsewhere. I didn’t get a clear response, though a question was asked during the Annual Board meeting, and the answer suggested something is in place.

Brad: You’d think this would be an easy question to address. Strange. You know, Amy and I were taken aback by the Men’s vs. Women’s card rooms’ inequity. When we got a tour as part of our interview process to become members, I remember seeing the tiny Women’s card room that stood in stark contrast to the opulent Men’s card room. We almost didn’t join BCC for this reason alone. I understand the renovation is addressing this, at least in part, which is good. Are there other examples of gender inequities?

Dan: I don’t know. I’ve suggested that BCC do a more thorough review of equity, including gender, race, and sexual preference. Perhaps this will be part of the survey, though the survey is said to focus on golfers.

Brad: So let me get this straight. They are going to focus the survey on golfers. Aren’t most golfers men?  Won’t many of them be conflicted by their desire to have Saturday’s reserved for men only?

Dan: Yes. They are conflicted. I know that a lot of male golfers enjoy their Saturday morning golf. Some of them, I learned, are reserved specific tee times on Saturday mornings. I respect that the tradition of men’s-only Saturday morning golf has been an important part of their lives. This is why the overall issue is uncomfortable to address. A Y-chromosome shouldn’t be a requirement for golfing on Saturday mornings. 

Brad: Changing this policy seems like a no-brainer. After all, it is 2020, and this is Boulder.

Dan: The chatter is that many golfers prefer the current system and will lobby for no change.

Brad: That’s disappointing. Amy and I know lots of BCC members. I’d like to think they would rally around changing this policy.

Dan: Most, I suspect, don’t know about it. The Board and Golf Committee haven’t shared it with the broad membership. Moreover, they are viewing it as a tee time preference issue instead of a gender equity issue.

Brad: Why are you doing this? Is Cindy a golfer? I know you have daughters. Are they golfers?

Dan: Cindy is a golfer. One of our four daughters is a golfer. I have two step-granddaughters — one is a newborn, and one is two years old. The toddler took her first golf swing in September. She needs to work on shortening her backswing.

However, my reason for surfacing this is about our responsibilities as leaders in our community. Zayo has 600 employees in Boulder, and half are women. Level 3, which I helped found, has even more Boulder-area employees. I collaborate with leaders like you to drive more inclusion into the entrepreneurial and business ecosystems. Many past and future employees of all these companies have or will be members of BCC.

Everyone I know wants golf to be a more inclusive recreation from both a gender and a race perspective.  Our policies and practices need to communicate that we value all golfers equally.

For all these reasons, I’ve concluded we shouldn’t look the other way while knowing our country club has a stale male-biased practice.  

Brad: Are others behind you on this?

Dan: We raised it with others, but we have not campaigned on a widespread basis. Knowing this could be an explosive issue, I didn’t want to put our fellow members in an awkward position. We are hoping BCC will raise this to the broad BCC membership in an appropriate way. 

Brad: When you’ve raised it with others, what has been the reaction?

Dan: Every single person (excluding board/committee members) we’ve approached has rallied behind the need to open up Saturday morning golf to women. Several business and community leaders have expressed this support to the BCC board. Again, we held back raising this except to a half dozen or so friends.

Brad: How’s your back?

Dan: What do you mean?

Brad: I suspect you are taking some arrows. 

Dan: I’m a Chicago Southsider, a cancer survivor, and a serial entrepreneur. I have lots of scar tissue on my back. More importantly, though, I have friends who have my back. If you are reading this, you know who you are, and I thank you for your public and private support!!!

Brad: For what it is worth, please know that Amy and I have your back as well!