In discussion: Should single-sex clubs be allowed to exist?

Golf Equipment

Should a private members' club be allowed to let in and blackball whoever they like? Two of our team debate this issue. Let us know what you think by leaving your comments below - the best could make it into a future issue of our magazine

The oldest golf society in the world, Royal Burgess in Edinburgh, has just decided to scrap proposals to admit female members after holding a vote.

Of just over 600 members, 418 chose to vote with 44 per cent in favour of the proposal and 56 against.

Have the club come to the right decision and should a private members’ club be allowed to let in and blackball whoever they like?

Two of our team, publisher Tom Irwin (TI) and editor Dan Murphy (DM), offer their views.

DM: I don’t like the concept of single-sex clubs in the 21st century, either all men or all women, and I suspect it is only a matter of time before this outdated practice dies out. In many cases kicking and screaming, I don’t doubt.

TI: I am not sure the debate is quite that simple. Surely the answer lies in the title of the debate, they are private clubs ergo it is their choice who they do or don’t allow to join.

DM: I don’t care if they are private, they should not be allowed to discriminate on gender. Or race for that matter. And they certainly shouldn’t be able to host Open Championships because of the negative effect on golf’s reputation, as we all saw at Muirfield last summer. I see these private clubs as extensions as that and they’re only damaging the perception of the game. 

TI: These are two separate issues. I have absolutely no problem with Muirfield not allowing women members, that is their decision and not for the wider world to comment on, they are not harming anyone or anything by holding that policy. 

The hosting of the Open is an entirely different matter, The Open is the only event screened throughout on the BBC, it is therefore by far and away the highest profile golf event of the year in the UK and it is important that the game is shown in the best possible light. This year the number one story was that the championship was being played at a single sex club and therefore the game is once again viewed as out dated, discriminatory and a closed shop. The argument is therefore clear: You can have any membership policy you wish, but the policy should not be tacitly endorsed by the being given the privilege of hosting the Open Championship. 
I’m sorry, but single-sex clubs do nothing but harm to the game’s image. I think the game’s governing bodies should stop endorsing them. DM: I think the two things are linked though, because we have this issue that the game is perceived as being stuffy, snobby, elitist, unwelcoming and so on. We know that membership numbers in the UK are in decline and that we need to attract new players to the game. Currently, the proportion of female members is about one in seven – less than 15 per cent. So it’s pretty obvious where the biggest growth area is.

I’m sorry, but single-sex clubs do nothing but harm to the game’s image. I think the game’s governing bodies should stop endorsing them. Now the biggest problem we have in that regard at the moment is that the R&A, the governing body for golf outside North America, is also a private members’ club that has no female members. So it’s pretty clear where the change needs to start.

TI: Agreed. Women’s golf is a huge potential growth area that we all want to see flourish, but single sex clubs are not the problem.  The solution is not enforcing change on clubs with single sex membership policies, any change that occurs at these venues is only tokenism when it arrives. For example, by the letter of the law Augusta now ‘allow’ women members, but in truth there are 2, and one is a former Secretary of State. Allowing ‘the best’ women, it could be argued, is an even more damaging and patronising policy than allowing no women at all. 

Muirfield is a great golf course, with outdated views on this matter, but that in itself means nothing to the wider appeal of the game, unless they are given the world’s greatest golf championship to host. There is room for everyone and everything – The R&A needs to change its own policy, it certainly needs to take our Open Championship only to venues with true duality, and Muirfield should accept that and be left alone to continue as it has for years. 

Some would argue that the Open Championship would be damaged in losing a great venue, I don’t agree. Several courses have dropped from the rota over the years and the Championship has flourished – Prestwick is a great golf course, that held many great Championships but is no longer a suitable test or facility. So in many ways it doesn’t matter if it is your course or your views that have become outdated, times change. 

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