BOSTON (AP) — Elaine Joyce has long commanded respect for her skills on the golf course, with more than 20 club championships, a single-digit handicap and a ranking among the top female golfers in Massachusetts.
Still, she was banned from playing in a tournament at a public Cape Cod course because she’s a woman.
So, after months of complaining, she has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the Dennis Pines Golf Course to change its policy, saying excluding women is as illegal as having whites-only drinking fountains.
“If someone says you can’t play because you’re black, that’s a problem, but if you throw in the word ‘woman,’ it really seems to be still acceptable to exclude you, and it shouldn’t be like that,” Joyce said.
For Joyce, 43, her exclusion at Dennis Pines is especially personal: it was here that her father taught her how to play golf when she was 8 years old. She went on to play in college and in the 1990s won numerous female tournaments at clubs in Yarmouth and Dennis. In 2001, Joyce beat out other female club champions to win a statewide tournament.
Last May, after Joyce and her father, Pat, signed up to play in a members tournament at Dennis Pines, Pat Joyce got a call from the club’s head pro, who said he could play if he found another male member to play with, but his daughter would not be allowed to participate.
“I was amazed and extremely disappointed,” Pat Joyce said Tuesday. “It goes back to Little League. Her athletic abilities when she was 9, 10 or 11 years old were equal to any of the boys, but she could never be selected for the major league teams, only the minor league teams just because she was a girl.”
Elaine Joyce said she wants to play in the men’s tournament for the challenge of competing against better players.
Her lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston, names the town of Dennis, Town Administrator Robert Canevazzi and three golf course officials. It seeks unspecified damages above $75,000 and an injunction to end the practice of excluding women from men’s tournaments.
Canevazzi and the club’s attorney, Kristin Tyler Harris, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday. Dennis Pines officials did not respond to messages left at the club.
Joyce’s attorney, Laura Studen, said club and town officials have repeatedly cited the club’s historic practice of having separate men’s and women’s tournaments and claim said they are not discriminating against Joyce.
Studen said that under the equal protection clause of 14th Amendment, public places are required to accommodate all citizens, men and women.
“She is a very, very competitive golfer, and the U.S. Constitution basically says to this public golf course, you can’t prohibit someone who otherwise qualifies from playing,” Studen said.
“It’s not just about golf, it’s about marginalizing women, and it’s preventing women from fully participating at the same level that men engage in the game.”
This isn’t the first time Joyce has had to fight to compete with men on the golf course. In 1998, after a two-year battle, she won the right to play with a weekend men’s league at two public courses in neighboring Yarmouth.