The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, unarguably the most famous golf club of them all, is recommending that its members should admit women for a first time.
The members will cast their votes at the club’s business meeting Sept. 18, the same day as some among them must decide whether or not they want an independent Scotland.
At a meeting at the R&A headquarters today, Peter Dawson, the CEO, explained that the length of the process will be dictated by the constitution of the R&A, and the need for a change to the rules.
There will be a period of dialogue with the members, with the discussions getting under way May 5-8 at the club’s Spring Meeting.
Dawson explained that they would not have embarked on the process but for the feeling that the various committees would have the full support of the membership.
“We have been talking about this for quite a while and the time would seem to be right,” said the CEO.
The R&A is not breaking laws in being a single-sex club. However, since its governance wing goes under the same R&A label as its membership wing, the public sees the club in precisely the same light as the other all-male Open championship venues. Namely, Muirfield, Troon and Royal St George’s.
Dawson said he is in no position to comment on whether these establishments would feel pressure to follow suit in opening their doors to the opposite sex. But he did not deny that there is an element of leading by example.
The R&A has its lofty place in the game because of its reputation and there is no question that Dawson and the General Committee feel that the change is necessary to ensure that that reputation is maintained and enhanced. Especially when the R&A is so heavily involved in golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016.
The R&A expect comfortably in excess of 300 members to attend the September business meeting where a two-thirds majority will be needed to make the historic change.
That there is no provision for proxy or postal votes may worry some of the more progressive members who fear that it is the locals, the club habitués, who are the keener to stay with the status quo.
To a certain extent, the same applies with the two all-women’s clubs in the town. Many of the women are happy as they are and believe that the town boasts a club for everyone.
The regular townsfolk, on the other hand, are not in accord. They dislike the image that goes round the world of single-sex golf clubs with elderly memberships. In their eyes, it does not begin to accord with the true picture of students and children hurrying about the streets with golf clubs slung over their shoulders.
“The kids here,” they said, “think golf is cool but no one outside the town gets to hear that.”
Augusta National’s decision to add two women to its membership roll in 2012 was not instrumental in setting the ball rolling. Indeed, word has it that they are set to go down an entirely different route in starting out with 20 or so women who will mirror the male membership in being an eclectic bunch of golfing aficionados.
The R&A almost certainly have been swayed more by the concerns that HSBC, one of the Open Championship’s partners, voiced about all-male Open venues. That and a barrage of press criticism ahead of last year’s Open at Muirfield.
The Muirfield staff, with particular reference to the greenskeepers and volunteers, felt to no small extent that their efforts were overlooked.
The R&A did inform its fellow all-male clubs ahead of today’s announcement. Heaven knows what they will have made of it, though they certainly will be less averse to copying the R&A than being bullied by the media.
Lady Angela Bonallack, wife of the former R&A CEO, Sir Michael, would be high on any R&A list of “acceptable women,” as would Annika Sörenstam, a winner of 10 majors, and Belle Robertson, the former Scottish champion and Curtis Cup golfer.