Royal and Ancient Golf Club Decision to Allow Female Members is a Sign Of Progress That Should Not Be Needed

The news that the previously fiercely all-male Royal and Ancient Golf Club had decided by a mandate of 85% of its 2,400 members, to allow female members for the first time in its 260-year history was a historic moment in golf.

It is therefore something of a shame that this important moment for golfing equality was somewhat lost in the hype that surrounded the 2014 Ryder Cup, that started the day after the R&A made public their announcement to allow women members.

 

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Similar to what happened at Augusta a couple of years ago, when two female members, businesswoman Darla Moore and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were made the first female members at Augusta, so this announcement at the R&A should have been lauded far and wide.

 

In particular, it should have been heeded at the three clubs on the British Open rota that still steadfastly refuse to admit women members to their ranks; Royal Troon, Royal St George’s and Muirfield.

Unfortunately, no similar outcome at either of these clubs remains likely in the near future. Troon’s male-only club argue that women members are served perfectly well by ‘their own club’, which entirely misses the point.

 

In any other facet of life, barring a section of society based on their gender is a form of sexism and is wholly unacceptable, in the same way that banning a person because of their sexual preference, religious beliefs or race is unacceptable.

Yet under the galling pretence of ‘tradition’ and ‘history’, there remain a core of golf clubs who fiercely resist any form of coercion to drag them into the 20th century.

 

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This is one of my greatest bugbears about golf club and membership. I loathe the elitist view that somehow certain members of society are not of the required social standing, or the right sex, or hold the right political views, to become a member of the club.

Indeed, it has almost become a 20th century version of freemasonry for some golf snobs, who park their Mercedes and BMW’s in the members only spaces and who diligently campaign to keep their little part of the world free from undesirable types; you know like women. Substitute the strange clothing and baffling handshakes for a Gin and Tonic and a 5-iron and you are on the right lines.

 

Yet here’s the baffling thing. Golf club membership is falling and falling at an alarming rate, both here in the UK and Ireland and in the US in particular. Clubs are folding left right and centre simply because they cannot attract enough members.

While this is unlikely to affect the top clubs that are on the British Open roster, their attitude however does influence how people view golf. For those who don’t play, it can be easily viewed as a middle-class, snobs game where elitism prevails.

 

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Golf is a game that should be inclusive for all. Regardless of whether you are male, female, able-bodied or disabled, black or white, young or old.

 

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It is a game that, conceivably, the whole family can play against each other and by using the handicap system, enjoy a competitive game whether you are a 100-shooting novice, or a 5-handicapper. It is a game that thanks to ingenious modifications and equipment design, the disabled can play against players who are able bodied.

At its best, golf is entirely inclusive, which is why the maddening beliefs of a stubborn few stigmatise the game.

 

So the R&A took a brave but necessary step and in truth, this is a step that should have been taken many years ago. The fact it has been taken now does them credit but until attitudes at certain clubs change, golf will always struggle with its image in the eye of those who don’t really know the game but think they do.

That’s a shame because in these times of falling membership numbers, these are precisely the types of players the game needs to attract.

 

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