The Niggle: St Andrews vote to allow female members

All eyes are on Scotland tomorrow...

*UPDATE* Members of the Royal and Ancient golf club of St Andrews have voted in favour of female members. CLICK HERE FOR MORE

So as Scotland decides this week, there is also an Independence Referendum going on.

Joking aside, we accept the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews voting on whether to allow female members is not the biggest news in Scotland this week but it is still hugely significant.

It is worth pointing out that this is a vote by the members of the R&A GC of St Andrews, and although the R&A itself is based at the same place, it is not the R&A holding the ballot.

Staff writers James Savage and Karl Hansell debate some of the key aspects.

JS I’ve always said this vote is long overdue. I’m not having the argument that this is a private members club so they should be free to admit who they want. This is the most famous golf club in the world. Yes it’s not the R&A itself voting on the issue but the two organisations are certainly linked.  Any club wanting to host The Open Championship should be promoting equality within the game of golf. Surely the result can only go one way?   

KH – You say it’s not the biggest news, but the USGA will not stage the US Open at a single-sex venue. Could you imagine if St Andrews was taken off the schedule? From that point of view then they simply have to approve the change. Yet I watched an interview with Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, from 2013, and in that he said that of the 5,000 members of clubs around St Andrews, most don’t want change. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but if it’s the case, then shouldn’t they just be left alone? It’s not like anyone’s breaking down the doors at their local Women’s Institute, demanding that men should be allowed to join?
What’s the point in opening the membership up to a few token women just so it ticks a box?" JS – I don’t think St Andrews is untouchable. If the vote goes against allowing female members tomorrow then there could be serious repercussions as far as the Open rota is concerned. Why would they be having this vote now if that wasn’t the case? The members of St Andrews may want to be left alone to do their own thing. That’s their choice. But I think a vote in favour of female members at St Andrews will put pressure on other clubs to do the same – it sends out a message that it is time for a change across the board. Augusta National admitted their first female members – Condoleezza Rice was one of them –  two years ago. I wonder if St Andrews will induct a high-profile female member to celebrate their new dawn? Seeing as they are announcing the decision on the same day as the Independence vote, something tells me they are not keen on too much attention either way…

KH – That’s a really good point about them not wanting much attention, maybe the R&A are a bit craftier than I’ve given them credit for. I didn’t realise Condoleezza Rice was one of the Augusta members. I might be wrong, but I can’t imagine she plays much? So what’s the point? Similarly, the R&A have said the first wave of female members would be 15 women, who they’ve already decided, who have contributed to golf in one way or another (Yoko Ono probably). Are these just going to be honorary memberships, again taken by people who aren’t really going to play? What’s the point in opening the membership up to a few token women just so it ticks a box? That would shuffle the matter under the carpet, so isn’t it worse? Of course I may be wrong, and these ladies could be keen to be members for the same reasons that the gents are. In fact, I really hope that’s the case and they take a real crack at being equals to the men in the club. But I wonder if there’s something a little sneakier going on.

JS – Ms Rice plays off 14 and is fairly handy off the tee by all accounts… But you are right to be sceptical. It’s a good point about the practical impact of female members at St Andrews – what impact will it have in that sense? Very little to the wider golfing public. But I don’t think that is what this is about. It’s much more of a political move, which will hopefully breakdown some of the barriers which make it difficult for women to get into golf. Box-ticking exercise or not, let’s take our cynical hats off for a second and look at the positives. If one of the most famous and historic golf clubs in the world is promoting equality in the game, that is a good thing. 

KH – I knew you’d call me out on the Condoleezza Rice point! Well played sir. What is clear is that we both want to see genuine equality in the game, and I’m sceptical as to whether the R&A vote will achieve this. But if we’re to believe that the grand old boys at the R&A want equality, then that’s fantastic, and I hope the members of the 30-or-so other single sex clubs in the UK – which are, incidentally, split pretty much 50/50 between all-male and all-female clubs – follow suit in the near future.


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