Sat, Sep 20, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Golfers say yes to women at St Andrews club

HISTORIC VOTE:With the prestigious Scottish golf club having traditionally accepted only male players, members have voted to overturn the ban

The Guardian

The independence referendum was not the only historic decision made in Scotland on Thursday, with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) finally voting to accept female members for the first time in its 260-year history.

The R&A, which is the historic home of golf and the game’s governing body outside the US and Mexico, belatedly conceded in March that the time had come to vote on whether to accept women as members after years of mounting pressure.

Its 2,400 all-male membership had been urged by club secretary Peter Dawson to “do what’s right for golf” in the postal vote, making the outcome far easier to predict than the other ballot that day.

They voted “overwhelmingly” to back a change to their outdated rules and the R&A will now approach 15 women already identified as having made a large contribution to the sport to be fast-tracked through the application process.

More than three quarters of the club’s membership took part in the ballot, with 85 percent voting in favor of women becoming members in a result announced outside its famous clubhouse on Thursday evening.

“This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club,” Dawson said. “The R&A has served the sport of golf well for 260 years and I am confident that the club will continue to do so in future with the support of all its members, both women and men.”

Ten years ago, the R&A span off its commercial arm, which organizes the annual British Open, but women effectively remained excluded because committee members could only be drawn from the membership list.

Three other courses on the Open Championship rota maintain men-only membership policies — Royal Troon and Muirfield in Scotland and Royal St George’s in Kent — and pressure is now set to increase on them to change their policies.

The matter came to a head at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, when several politicians boycotted the event and the ban on women members overshadowed events on the course.

Dawson failed to quell the storm when he said the club’s “natural reaction is to resist these pressures, because we actually don’t think they have very much substance.”

However, before the vote, which coincidentally fell on the same day as the referendum and the week before Scotland hosts the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, he urged members to do what was “right for golf.”

The long overdue change of heart was welcomed by campaigners and politicians.

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation chief executive Ruth Holdaway said it was “brilliant news,” adding: “The admittance of female members is a symbolic step in the move towards full equality in sport and for golf in particular.”

Sports minister Helen Grant said: “This is positive news for the sport and I hope we will now see other golf clubs that still have outdated same-sex policies follow suit.”

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