Will R&A Take Augusta’s Cue?

The men of Augusta will almost certainly have been musing, mischievously, on how the R&A and other all-male clubs in the UK have reacted to their decision to admit women. Today, we can reliably advise that the clubs in question have been less obviously enthusiastic about the news than the rest of us. When Peter Dawson, the CEO of the R&A, addressed the so-called “equality issue” last week, he wasted no time in saying that his job would be “a whole lot easier” without it. Muirfield, this year’s Open venue, may yet surprise us all by unveiling their answer to Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore today on its Open media day but, last week at least, the CEO gave the impression that nothing was about to change. There were, it has to be said, plenty of other noteworthy items to come out of what was a wide-ranging forum: Rory McIlroy’s “worrying decision” as to whether he should represent Ireland or GB at the 2016 Olympics could yet be taken out of his hands while, on another player topic, Dawson indicated that results of the Vijay Singh situation could be announced at any moment. It would appear that Singh was found guilty of using a banned substance in that the PGA Tour’s review is currently in the appeal stage. Anchored putting? Dawson promised we will learn of its fate this year. Yet this most charismatic CEO would need to have announced that the Road Hole bunker was about to be filled in, or something in the same apocalyptic vein, to keep the single-sex golf club issue out of the news. As politely as he could, he suggested the public had not been fed the full facts. Thirty years ago, it would have been easier for the journalistic world to give chapter and verse but, in this era of tweets and twitters, a single message is often just about all that gets through. And when it comes to the question of all-male golf clubs, the message that comes through loudest and clearest is that the R&A is a single-sex establishment. The golf writers know that it is only the club’s membership wing and not the official wing that is all male. But here, in what was very much a two-way discussion with the CEO, they protested that “full facts” would always be an impossible ask while the two wings share the same R&A label. Dawson’s next point vis-à-vis the R&A was that single-sex golf clubs are the norm in St Andrews, with the three men’s and two ladies’ establishments having recently joined forces to issue a statement saying that everyone was happy with the status quo. A bit of research determined that that does not necessarily apply outside the immediate golfing community. Two women serving in a local store gave a hollow laugh at the idea that the single-sex policy met with all-round approval. They said that there were plenty of townsfolk who felt that the golfing hierarchy – men’s and women’s – are sending out a message that belongs in the past. “Golf in St Andrews is actually considered pretty trendy,” they explained. “You see hundreds of children going about the town with golf clubs on their backs and that’s the word that needs to be spread.” With the Old Course accessible to everyone, including those American visitors who, according to a course ranger, take “bigger divots” than anyone, the only out-and-out all-male venues on the Open rota are Muirfield, Royal St George’s and Royal Troon. Dawson said that the R&A would not be threatening to expel them from the Open rota because they were all operating within the law. “To think that the R&A might say to a club like Muirfield, ‘You are not going to have the Open any more unless you change your policy,’ is frankly a bullying position we would never adopt.” He rightly indicated that the women’s lot had improved across the years and made mention of how Muirfield had two Curtis Cups under its belt. In connection with which, the Curtis Cup side of 1984 certainly received a better reception than that of 1952. When the day came that the team of ’52 were invited in for tea, the secretary posted a note in the locker room to warn the men of the women’s impending arrival – and to apologise for the inconvenience. Since no one is ever going to persuade the press to lay down their pens on what Dawson labels “this emotive issue,” the remaining all-male clubs would probably be as well sorting things out on their end. There are, of course, plenty of ways forward without copying Augusta. They could start with mixed junior sections from which girls would move seamlessly into the senior section. Were such a scenario ever to come about, Muirfield members, in particular, could play a valuable role in schooling youngsters in the art of foursomes for Curtis and Walker Cup purposes. Yet, there would be a downside to that or any other resolution. The media would be deprived of what is a firm favourite among contentious issues. To a man – and a woman – we would miss it.


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