Debate: The R&A vote to end ban on women members

Golf Equipment

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews will hold a vote in September on whether or not women should be allowed to join as members. Is this a massively significant move in the history of the sport? Dan Murphy, James Savage and Chris Bertram give their views.

DM – This is a hugely significant development. The game’s governing body was discriminating against half of the population at a time when participation rates are falling. How can the governing body in all conscience do that? The likelihood is that this is the beginning of the end for single-sex clubs – both men-only and women-only versions. That is surely a good thing. The R&A could hardly lecture Muirfield, Troon and St George’s on their policies when its was the same.

JS – I don’t think anyone can argue that this isn’t a good thing. But how much will actually change? It’s not like women can’t play at St Andrews. Many courses with ‘men-only’ memberships policies regularly hold female tournaments. Voting to allow women members is a step forward but how many will there be if the vote goes as expected? And how much influence will they have? It is something which needed to happen many, many years ago and it is slightly embarrassing that this has only been announced in 2014.

CB –  It is long overdue but just isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. How many people have really been put off golf by the fact women could not be members of the R&A Golf Club? There are far bigger issues that should be under the microscope; not least the cost of golf and the pace of play – both of which can be linked to the advances in equipment technology/the ball that make courses so long. They both, surely, have more impact on whether people decide to play the game. Not whether Mrs Smith can join Mr Smith in the R&A Golf Club of St Andrews.

DM – I disagree. Golf’s reputation in wider society is appalling and has a massive impact on participation rates – this is a significant step in the right direction.

JS – I completely agree that it had to happen and is a big step to improving golf’s reputation in wider society. Golf is mired in sexism which is a factor behind dwindling participation rates. But I am sceptical about the reasons behind the move. Why now? If the reasons were purely on equality grounds this surely would have happened before now? 

CB – If it was the R&A itself – fair enough. It runs the game and should be spotlessly clean in every respect – an example to the rest of the sport. And although the R&A and the R&A GC of St Andrews are inextricably linked, they are different – a point people seem to be missing. 

DM –  People at golf clubs are conservative with a big and small ‘C’. They hate the equality act. This sets the example (albeit 100 years too late) that they have to change. The game is seen as the last bastion of the Victorian age. It can now begin to enter the 21st century.
People said this would never happen – it is happening. These people can’t run the game without acknowledging what is happening outside their committee rooms CB – The R&A GC of St Andrews is a private club. So must ladies only gyms become open to all? Shouldn’t most establishment golf clubs be open to all, not just ‘the right sort of person’? What is the difference between a decision that someone ‘isn’t right for our club’ on grounds of class or profession, as opposed to the R&A GC of St Andrews preferring not to have female members? This is 2014, not 1814! Why are we still ruled by class?

JS – I asked a friend from outside the world of golf what they thought of the decision to hold a vote on the issue. I thought they would be surprised that men-only policies were still in place. ‘Well, it is a bit of an old man’s game’ was the response. It will take more than this vote before the game’s deep-rooted stereotypes can be eradicated.

DM –  People said this would never happen – it is happening. These people can’t run the game without acknowledging what is happening outside their committee rooms. Modernisation starts at the top of the game – it’s started.

CB – Allowing female members IS a good thing, obviously. But those thinking it cures golf’s ills are in for a nasty surprise. Its effects will be negligible. Some might argue the exposure in the media is good. Well, these same papers and media outlets so keen to tell golf off for its archaic ways are the same outlets who do send numerous staff to The Open, and then the following week send no-one to the Women’s Open.
Rank hypocrisy. 


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