It is a remarkable documentary. And it is now available to watch for free on Four On Demand. I remember when Channel 4 first broadcast this documentary about Northwood Golf Club and holding my breath. I couldn’t believe that they had actually got into a private members club and filmed what we saw. Apparently several clubs in the area had been approached and had turned Channel 4 down. The “Board of Directors” of Northwood had not only invited them in for a paltry fee, and allowed them free reign to film what and where they liked, including a disciplinary meeting with a member. When they were shown a pre-transmission screening they had applauded it. It was only after the public backlash after it was shown that the entire board resigned.
The way it was presented made many squirm. It was an unflattering portrayal of golf club life.
One “former Board Member” was forthcoming with his opinions. This is what was called “Northwoodania” in 1994 when the film was made.
“Golf used to be an upper middle class man’s sport but it’s no longer the case. There are more artisan type working class people wanting to join in. The established members resent this, but it’s a fact of life, a development of modern Britain.
“A golf club provides the opportunity for a disappointed man to achieve some kind of prominence. Half of the problem with golf is that the wrong kind of people put themselves forward to it on committees. It may be their only chance in life to attain any kind of prominence and influence”.
“This club wants to keep people out of it who are not up to standard” observed another member “we do have a Dr Shah, and a couple of coloured people though”.
The Lady Captain explains that although women pay virtually the same fees as men they are not allowed to play on Saturday or Sunday mornings or vote or speak at meetings”.
“The problem is the men here are insecure and feel threatened by us. I would like one of them to stand up and give us one good reason why we cannot have the vote” said an aggrieved lady.
The best that was captured on camera was “I wouldn’t join the Townswomens Guild and impose my rule on them” and from sympathetic member Preston Lockwood, an actor “I feel sad for the women”. So too did the camera crew. The closing titles of the film show for every male name a female name is listed underneath unless a female is doing the job. It is a relief to tell you that after the film was made, women did get the vote.
It captures the worst of pomposity inside this private fiefdom. But there’s the rub. Usually these things are private, this film made public by just interviewing and showing and allowing others to make their minds up. But none of it against the law. As I once explained to a non- golfer private clubs are like separate countries within our country. At the time this documentary went out famed golf writer Peter Dobreiner observed: “you cannot frame a by-law to change human nature”.
It is probably the worst public relations mistake ever made in golf. But do watch it. The film is worth watching for the extraordinary soap opera like committee meetings surrounding a member who challenges the Board of Directors at the end. I can’t believe this was captured on film. Take a look.