Clubs where women aren’t welcome to join

Opinion: Such discrimination is tolerated in supposedly upmarket golf clubs

‘There’s nothing inherently reactionary about propelling balls with equipment ill-suited to the task.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘There’s nothing inherently reactionary about propelling balls with equipment ill-suited to the task.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 12:01

Had you brushed aside the chatter concerning nosy Guards, plummeting aircraft and Gwyneth’s conscious uncoupling, you might have happened upon an alarming story last week. It seems that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews – which is to such bodies as Led Zeppelin is to hard rock – has finally agreed to a vote in September on allowing women to join its ranks.

Alarm is triggered not by the terrifying notion of “ladies” (as golf clubs insist on calling adult females) daring to tee up at weekends and consume gin in the main bar. The shock is that the contrary prohibition remained in place for so long. One could hardly be more surprised to learn that Jews and black people were banned.

It is so. Supposedly upmarket golf clubs remain among the few institutions where such discrimination is tolerated. It is less than two years since Augusta National, home to the US Masters tournament, opened up to the minority that makes up 51 per cent of the population. In this country, neither Portmarnock nor Royal Dublin golf clubs admits women as members. Last year, Clare Balding, the British television journalist, created a minor fuss when she refused to cover the Open Championship at Muirfield because that club still refused to admit women.

How is this legal? In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that Portmarnock could continue to exclude women because it is exempted under equal status legislation. The decision hung on the fact that the club’s main purpose was to serve the needs of one particular gender.

If we were to play devil’s advocate here we could ponder when, exactly, it becomes the State’s business as to whom we allow into our own private club. Let’s pretend I am some sort of racist, anti- Semite lunatic. If I start a chess club in my front room I am, presumably, under no compulsion to admit any Jewish or African neighbours with a taste for the game. Less facetiously, no club catering to the “the needs” of a particular disabled community should feel any compulsion to admit able-bodied folk who just need somewhere to hang out of an evening.

Contoured recreational paradise
The offending golf clubs could make the flimsy argument that any women golfers have the right to form their own club and place prohibitions on the entry of men. That sounds easy enough. All women golfers in, say, the Portmarnock area need to do is purchase a vast area of unused land, hire a course designer and drum up the few million euro required to make a contoured recreational paradise. Well, that doesn’t sound too difficult.

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