The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews should be admired for many reasons but not for finally asking its members to admit women after 260 years.
Seen as golf’s spiritual home, St Andrews is urging its 2,500 members to vote in favor of abolishing its men-only policy and a vote on the issue will be held in September.
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s certainly the right decision. By all means say, “Congratulations and welcome to the 21st century” but the announcement seems to be motivated by self-interest more than a sudden enlightenment of the men who run the club.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club has traditionally been the guardian of the rules of the game since 1754, but in 2004 it devolved responsibility for the game’s administration and Britain’s Open championship to the newly-formed The R&A.
I was reporting from last year’s Open at Muirfield in Scotland, another club with a male-only membership, and the issue of excluding women was a prominent one in the days leading up to the tournament.
When I asked R&A chief executive Peter Dawson what’s the difference between “all male” and “all white” he became rather agitated believing my comparison to be unfair and slightly preposterous. For many people outside golf, it wasn’t.
Yes, single sex clubs are not illegal in the UK but, in mainstream western society, it feels as if they have become a marginal curiosity; things that are pointed and giggled at from afar, the way a young smartphone user would smirk at a typewriter.
More crucially, holding one of golf’s four annual major championships at a men-only club jars badly for a sport that is now back in the Olympics. And as the International Olympic Committee discovered at Sochi’s Winter Games, there are plenty of politicians, athletes and fans who care about its charter of anti-discrimination and inclusion.
So if in future there are women members at St Andrews the R&A could say, “don’t blame us, we are not men only any more.” Then, the focus will shift to sponsors and the players who enjoy courses like Muirfield but were strangely quiet on the subject last July.
The R&A’s tactic mirrors what happened at the Masters where organisers of golf’s opening major each year finally stopped questions about Augusta National’s male only membership by admitting women - two of them.
A token gesture, maybe, but they realised that when you stage one of the world’s biggest sporting events the massive scrutiny makes it tough to live in the past. You have to change with the times, the way we all do.