Madeleine Winnett: Equality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

News & Tour

Two years after new legislation came into effect, a lady golfer offers her personal view...

OK, it’s official. I hate equality! What has equality ever done for me except leave an enormous hole in my wallet?

Take car insurance, for example. I was very happy with Sheila’s Wheels. I didn’t just choose them because I liked the catchy tune with the bouncy ball over the words to sing along to. It’s an inescapable fact (whatever the editor says!) – women are better drivers than men.

We have fewer accidents and are therefore less of a liability to insure, make fewer claims and on those grounds alone should be entitled to cheaper payments.

And I was – until equality waded in and decided I now have to pay the same as the spotty youth with his hole-ridden exhaust, doing drag-car racing starts from traffic lights and copying donuts from Top Gear in car parks, before driving through someone’s garden hedge at 3am, three sheets to the wind and as high as a kite.

Then there is my golf club membership. A couple of years ago I seem to remember paying something around the £800 mark, and this year it is an eye watering £1,400 and something or other, complete with compulsory bar levy.

That’s not funny. And what benefits do I get for now having to stand on street corners with a three-legged dog and a begging bowl? None. Not one!

Before equality, I wasn’t allowed to play before 11.30am on Sundays, but personally, I can’t see why anyone wants to play before 11.30am on any day of the week, let alone a weekend.

Traditionally, Sunday is a rest day, and that suits me just fine. It gave me a perfectly legitimate excuse to lie in bed before playing in the alternative day competitions. Now I have to create excuses in order to avoid being dragged onto the tee at some ungodly hour by my playing partners who clearly don’t understand the concept of sleep.

In the days when I was unequal but considerably wealthier, I used not to be able to play before 4pm on a Saturday in summer, and 2pm in winter.

Now that I am being asked to pay the same as the equivalent of training for a flight in space for the privilege of being able to play on Saturdays, I can’t get on the course anyway because there are so many men playing in their designated competition day, so I have gained absolutely nothing.

True, ladies can now go into the Oak Room – the former hallowed inner sanctum of the men – but we don’t bother because the mixed bar is so much lighter, nicer and just appears to be more cheerful. Plus, we have sat in there for so long, it is just our habitual gathering place.

Equality also gave us CONGU, and don’t even get me started on that one! In fact, if you give us our old ladies’ handicap system back – you remember, the one where everyone was happy, enjoyed their golf and didn’t hate every person from the other division – I’d even happily pay my extra subs without moaning about them!

So, after all the things I dislike about equality, was I happy to learn about the first two women being invited to be members of Augusta? Well, quite frankly, yes.

Before equality, I wasn’t allowed to play before 11.30am on Sundays, but personally, I can’t see why anyone wants to play before 11.30am on any day of the week, let alone a weekend. Apart from anything else, it makes the stance by the R&A look very isolated now. While they continue to refuse to admit women, and play their championship at clubs for men only, some will see them as an institution run by misogynist dinosaurs.

To be fair, until quite recently, most traditional golf clubs in the country were also run by misogynist dinosaurs, but, as is the way with all dinosaurs, they are now dying out as well. The power base has undoubtedly shifted.

Admittedly, change was forced upon them, but attitudes have changed.

Even the old fogeys have realised that equality with the ladies hasn’t ruined their courses and clubhouses, and very little has actually changed in terms of how and when they play and where they can sit.

I was quite right when the ladies were lagging behind the men in allowing distance measuring devices (GPSs and lasers) to be used in competitions, and I predicted that they would have to follow suit.

Thankfully, I was right, and quicker than I had anticipated. Thus, I now have no trouble at all in putting my head above the parapet and saying with total confidence that the R&A and Muirfield will admit lady members in the future.

The only thing I am uncertain about is how many generations of enlightenment it will take!

At a club like Augusta, where the caddies had to be black but the members couldn’t be, until relatively recently, it is gratifying to see just how quickly things have moved to allow women members. Two isn’t a huge number, out of a membership of three hundred, but it’s a start.

I’m not entirely sure if they are going to put any ladies’ tees in for them, but it could be a long way round if not. I’m also not convinced it’s absolute value for money.

Certainly, I concede that at a dinner party, given the question:
“Where do you play?”
“Trentham.”
“And where do you play?”
“Augusta.”

Yes, the latter would have more kudos in the oneupmanship stakes. However, you can only play for six months of the year, from May to October, so would you have to join somewhere else as well?

Much of Augusta’s attractiveness also stems from its azaleas, and they would be conspicuous by their absence for the majority of time you could stride around the fairways.

The fees have never been fully disclosed to outsiders, but from the minimalistic research I have done, the membership seems to be somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000, with annual dues slightly less than $10,000 a year.

It is also traditional for members to have to pay the green fee for their guests, which I can’t imagine would be cheap. You would suddenly also have a lot of friends, so it’s probably just as well that the former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and businesswoman Darla Moore, vice-president of a private investment company, are the first two female members there, rather than me and one of my room mates trying to save money when we go away by sharing.

However, there are a couple of very attractive motives for wanting to join Augusta.

Firstly, Condoleezza and Darla are assured of meeting each other in the final of the mixed foursomes knockout, and with only the two of them, they won’t be subject to the most heinous of all inventions – the variable standard scratch.

Now that really is worth scraping together $30,000 for – even if it is only for six months!

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