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No girls allowed? Cleveland Country Club refuses woman’s entry into golf tournament

Lauren Gross (middle) was barred from competing in a Cleveland Country Club golf tournament based on gender. Photo courtesy of Lauren Gross.

A story out of Cleveland is grabbing attention across Mississippi after a woman was denied entry to a local golf tournament based on her sex.

Lauren Gross and her father, Stephen Gross, were set to play in the Cleveland Country Club 4-Ball tournament over the weekend. Stephen had called upon his daughter to fill in for his usual male partner, who would be unavailable for the tournament the pair had played for most of the last 25 years.

But the day before the Gross’s were due to leave for the weekend, they received a phone call from the club saying they would not be able to compete because Lauren is a girl.

“First, I was surprised,” Stephen said. “To find out 24 hours before our practice round was scheduled was surprising. Then, I became extremely disappointed with the conversations I had with the club pro.”

The biggest part of the surprise for the Gross’s came because the tournament is not advertised or defined as a men’s-only tournament. There were no rules in the registration process that made them aware that Lauren might not be able to play.

“My brother and I came in from the course where we were practicing for the tournament when my dad told me,” Lauren said. “I didn’t even say anything. I was very frustrated.”

Lauren said the prevailing emotion was confusion upon hearing the decision because there was no reason to think that she wouldn’t be allowed to play.

“They admitted there was no rule against women playing, so I was definitely surprised and confused even now,” she said.

Michael Gross, Lauren’s brother who would also be playing in the tournament, contacted the club expressing his frustration. This elicited a phone call from a club board member to ask Stephen if Lauren would still be willing to play if she was allowed. Lauren said she would still like to play and held no grudges against the club.

“I get it,” Stephen said. “You’re a country club. You have every right to make rules however you want to. But I’m not trying to enter a woman into a men’s tournament.”

The board member who contacted Lauren’s father apologized, saying he wasn’t aware that the club had a men’s-only tournament.

“I told him, ‘You don’t,'” Stephen said. “We weren’t trying to do anything for women’s rights or be activists or anything like that. We were just trying to play in a tournament we’ve played in for a long time.”

Stephen and Lauren made the club aware that she would play from the men’s tees and didn’t want any special treatment. The board member then told the Gross’s that he would consult with other board members and come back with a decision.

That decision didn’t come until about 10:15 a.m. the next day, nearly two hours after the Gross’s were supposed to leave for the tournament. Mr. Gross didn’t get the final decision from the club until after numerous calls the night before and that morning.

Amidst the discussions, the club offered to let Lauren play “markers only”, meaning that her score would not be counted in the tournament, even playing from the men’s tees and not participating in the cash prize portion.

“She was a bit frustrated by that,” Stephen said. “It kind of like, oh, sweet little girl you can play, but your score won’t count.”

At that point, Lauren decided she would not play.

“We’re not trying to do anything detrimental to the club,” Stephen said. “They have every right to make that decision. But we have a right to tell the story, which is what we’re doing. Just telling the story.”

Lauren, who was a standout Division I basketball player at Southern Miss and Louisiana-Monroe, echoed her father’s sentiment that no statement was or is trying to be made and she holds no ill will towards the club. But she also made it clear that the sequence of events was frustrating.

“After they told me that it was a men’s tournament just because it’s always been that way – it made me say ‘dang, I’m really glad that however long ago women started playing basketball, people didn’t say women can’t play just because it’s always been that way,’” Lauren said. “Because I’ve benefitted tremendously from the game and it’s given me a lot of advantages in life.”

“I think the days of women assuming they’re not invited unless told otherwise are over. Just because things are one way or have been one way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. We can evolve – it’s okay. If women just assumed we weren’t invited just because something has been dominated by men, we wouldn’t be very far.”

The Gross family reiterated several times in conversation with SuperTalk Mississippi News that Lauren doesn’t want to be seen as a victim and none of them hold ill will towards those who made the decision. They hope that the situation is handled differently in the future, either allowing women to play or making it clear that it is a men’s-only tournament in the years to come.

“What should have happened in this situation, they should have let her play,” Stephen said. “Then they should have corrected their form for the next year to make it men’s-only if they want it to be. But they dug their heels in and doubled down several times that the reason she wasn’t going to play was because she was a woman. It’s just a little backwards, or antiquated I guess, that thought process. If they had just admitted that they did this wrong and worked to make it right, it would have been fine. But we don’t feel like they did that.” Mr. Gross added that he hasn’t heard anything from the club since that conversation.

Cleveland Country Club was contacted on multiple occasions for this story, but they could not be reached for comment.

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