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The other Scots poll: golf bastion decides on women members


A view of the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. David Cannon/Getty Images

A view of the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. David Cannon/Getty Images

Getty Images

A view of the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. David Cannon/Getty Images

Another vote is being counted in Scotland this week. It may be totally overshadowed by the independence referendum, but the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews has been holding its autumn meeting on September 18 since 1783. Tradition is tradition.

Or at least it was. On Thursday evening, about 300 of the total 2,400 membership of the club will gather at the east of Scotland seaside course to be told the results of a ballot on whether to abandon the policy of having a men-only membership at this bastion of the game, globally recognised as the "home of golf". Almost certainly, it will be a yes to sexual equality.

One senior figure at St Andrews, who did not wish to be named, said: "We're pretty much expecting everyone to back the dropping of men-only. The chairman has asked very nicely and I can't see him being overruled.

"It's been the cause of much, much bad publicity and frankly the game of golf in this country needs to be bringing more people in, not holding them outside of the door. It has a snotty enough reputation." He admitted that a falling number of people playing golf in the UK and the US, even as its popularity is exploding in China, Brazil and Korea, was a worry for many in the sport.

In 2012 Gordon Brown called for the club to drop its "indefensible" discriminatory policy. Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, had previously criticised the club in 2009, after it became clear it was ignoring its long-held tradition of inviting principals of St Andrews University to become members because a woman, Louise Richardson, had been appointed to the post.

When, two years ago, Augusta National - host of the Masters tournament - allowed women to join its club, with Condoleezza Rice swiftly becoming one of the first in the queue, the pressure mounted on the R&A to follow suit.

Scottish golf was plagued by further controversy in 2013 when the Open Championship was played at Muirfield, home of the male-only Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. In the same year, Edinburgh's Royal Burgess Club, which has a claim to be the oldest golf club in the world, was also heavily criticised by the Scottish government for voting against the admission of women.

Sponsors have become uneasy about the publicity men-only club policies attract. HSBC's global head of sponsorship and events, Giles Morgan, has said big tournaments would be "much more palatable" if sexual segregation were to be consigned to the past.

A spokesman for the R&A said that if the vote went the way the club's committee has recommended, there would be a fast-tracking of suitable candidates so that female members could be "mainstream" as quickly as possible.

"The club is balloting its members on a change to its membership rules that would enable it to welcome women members," he said.

"Over 2,400 ballot papers have been sent out and the vote is independently scrutinised by Electoral Reform Services. A simple majority is required to effect the proposed change. "Should the outcome be in favour of welcoming women members the decision will take immediate effect. The first women members in a mixed membership Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews are likely to have made a significant contribution to the development of our sport."

© Observer

Sunday Independent