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Cleveland Country Club keeps woman from playing in weekend tournament

Sometimes the great game of golf rears its ugly head when it comes to how it approaches the separation of genders. 

For instance, it was only 12 years ago the famed Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, allowed its first female members, in former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore. Augusta National had only allowed male members since it started in the 1930s before then. More women have joined the club since.  

A Southaven family was recently reminded that the gender separation in golf can still be there, even when it was not expressly stated.  

Stephen Gross has played in a four-ball tournament for several years at the Cleveland, Mississippi Country Club. He and his wife Chelle went to school at Delta State University in Cleveland and they have ties to the community because of that. Son Michael is currently a broadcaster for Delta State athletics. 

Gross has typically played with a male partner in the tournament, but this year, his partner could not play because he was taking part in his niece’s wedding.  They had signed up in April to play in the tournament, set to tee-off Saturday, June 8. Family and friends of Gross have played in the tournament for about 20 years, according to Chelle, adding Stephen has also worked some summers at the club, so he knows it fairly well.  

Not having his normal partner sent Stephen looking to find a temporary fill-in, and he did, or so he thought; his daughter Lauren. 

You might recognize the name Lauren Gross. She recently completed a Division I college basketball career that featured stops at North Florida, Southern Miss, and Louisiana-Monroe. Lauren was part of a Northpoint Christian School team that won back-to-back TSSAA Division 2-A state titles and lost only 12 games during her time there. 

She’s always been up for competition and Lauren was fine filling the vacant spot as Stephen’s second in the Cleveland club’s golf tournament. They filled out the paperwork and sent it in, then started getting ready to play.  The family and friends made plans to gather and join together for dinner and a get-together as they usually do when Stephen and his friend play in the tournament.  

Thursday morning, Stephen took a phone call from the Cleveland club’s golf pro informing Stephen that Lauren would not be allowed to play. When asked why she could not play, the only answer the golf pro could give was “she’s a girl.”

While no women have played in the tournament before in its close to 50-year history, it was never expressly stated in the registration, or in any way, that the event was for men only. 

“He (Michael) explained that Lauren expected no special treatment and she would play from the men’s tees like everyone else,” Chelle said. “She just wanted to play.”  

The golf pro took it up the chain of command and called Michael back to say the club’s decision stood, that they’ve “never had this problem before and didn’t want to open a can of worms,” but that they would continue talking it over, said Chelle. 

Club officials kept Stephen and Lauren basically in the dark about an absolute final decision until about an hour after they were supposed to leave for the tournament, when they were told again they were standing by the original decision that Lauren would not be allowed to play.  

“I’m shocked that clear heads could come together and still come out with the same conclusion,” Chelle said.  

A Facebook post about what happened has gone viral, been shared and reshared multiple times and the reaction about what happened has been, to use the term, grossly negative against the club. A Vicksburg newspaper has reached out to the club seeking an explanation but as of Saturday morning has not received further information about why the decision was made.  

“I am not one to post very often as you can see on my feed,” Chelle wrote on Facebook. “However I do find it necessary to speak when the truth could help make something right.”  

A private golf club certainly has the privilege of setting its own rules and policies but tournament restrictions are typically stated clearly ahead of time, not by saying hours before, “that’s the way it’s always been done.”  

How the Cleveland Country Club approaches this event in the future remains to be seen, but the tournament is going on this weekend and Stephen and Lauren Gross did have a golf game planned… at Mallard Pointe Golf Course in Sardis.  

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