Sunday 8 December 2019

Financial 'girl-power' forces Royal and Ancient's hand

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has voted
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has voted "overwhelmingly" in favour of welcoming women members

Karl MacGinty

WORLD golf's most influential club, the Royal and Ancient, has voted overwhelmingly to admit women as members for the first time in its 260-year history.

Of 2,400 R&A members from all around the globe who voted, 85pc favoured change.

"This is an important and positive day," said chief executive Peter Dawson, adding that a "significant" initial number of women will be fast-tracked into place in coming months.

The news was welcomed around the world, including Ireland, where the sport's recovery from recession inevitably hinges on the effort of clubs, assisted by the new Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI), to draw members from the female population, while emphasis also is being placed on family participation.


Sinead Heraty, chief executive of the Irish Ladies Golf Union, linked with the men's GUI and the PGA Irish Region under the CGI umbrella, described the poll result as "the logical next step in the direction the R&A have been moving for a number of years".

She praised the R&A for being "very, very strong supporters of the development and growth of girls' and women's golf," adding: "They're very supportive of us, the ILGU as an organisation."

Heraty believes golf's readmission to the Olympic family and the decision two years ago of Augusta National, who host the US Masters, to accept female members "influenced the direction they (the R&A) are going".

"The image of golf is changing to one of being much more inclusive and equal in so many countries," she added. "What's happening now is the R&A is reflecting a more modern lifestyle.

"If you look at the difficulties the sport is experiencing with the growth of the game and the number of people moving out of club membership, the clear message from research in America and elsewhere is to target the female market."

The R&A decision to admit women members is, she said, "one of a number of things that are happening".

"If you look at the USGA and the staging of this summer's men's and women's US Opens on the same golf course a week apart, it's all about raising the profile of the female game and making golf a more inclusive sport overall," she explained.

Of significance was the "uneasiness" major sponsors of the British Open, such as HSBC, felt with the event being staged at male-only Muirfield in 2012 or Royal St Georges in 2011 - the R&A's worldwide operations are funded largely by the Open.

Royal Troon, Open venue in 2016, has separate men's and women's clubs and is not planning to change. Yet Muirfield this month begins a review of their membership policies, with a report expected in the spring, while Royal St Georges revealed earlier this year it has "for a while now has been considering its position as a single sex private members' club."

In Ireland, Portmarnock's right to operate as a male-only golf club was established in the Supreme Court in 2009. Asked if club policy might be influenced by the R&A decision, secretary manager Brian Hurley politely declined to comment, except to point out Portmarnock "has an elected committee and through that committee regularly reviews all aspects of the club's membership and will continue to do so."

Meanwhile, Sod's Law dictates that someone overlooked for Ryder Cup selection will upstage those who made the team and Joost Luiten applied it to the letter at Celtic Manor yesterday as he shot a fabulous six-under 65 to lead first round of the ISPS Handa Wales Open.

Normally, the performance of wild card Stephen Gallacher might be considered deeply disturbing as he posted his worst round in two years, a 78, on a course set up to play like Gleneagles. However, the Scot is looking forward to the biggest thrill of his career on 'home' ground next week and must be forgiven for being as skittish as a kid on Christmas Eve.

Lee Westwood, another captain's pick, hardly covered himself in glory with a two-over 73. Thomas Bjorn at least managed to match par with two birdies in his final four holes, while home hero Jamie Donaldson, the fourth member of McGinley's squad on show, finished with a 70.

Shane Lowry was Ireland's best in a tie for seventh following his 68.

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