St Andrews finally grasp equality ‘nettle’

Royal And Ancient to recommend ditching 260-year-old policy of confining club membership to men

The  clubhouse on the Old Course at St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, home of the Royal and Ancient.

The clubhouse on the Old Course at St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, home of the Royal and Ancient.

Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 01:00

These things are never done quietly. The sound of a wall falling down or a barrier being broken or of a seismic shift in doctrine has a knock-on effect, one that usually causes the ground to shake. Yesterday’s announcement from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews that its all-male membership will “vote on a motion to admit women” was, in the golfing world, one of those moments. It created the loudest of noises.

Perhaps, people will say, the dinosaurs have joined the modern age. It is not as simple as that.

However, the R&A’s inclination to have a vote for change – with the expectation that those 2,400 men from around the world who belong to the august club will do the right thing and support the call for women members to be allowed and to belong – is a hugely significant about-turn by its hierarchy.

The short, sweet statement contained a particularly relevant line: “The Club’s committees,” it stated, “are strongly in favour of the rule change and are asking members to support it.”

Unique position
The R&A is not just any old club. It is 260 years old. It holds a unique position in golf, governing the game worldwide outside of the United States and Canada, and has evolved into the leading authority on the sport. It has written to all of its members asking for a vote to be taken in September. After 260 years, what’s another few months?

The significance of the R&A’s move comes on the back of Augusta National’s decision to end its men-only membership policy. That, too, was done to their own tune and at their own pace when, in 2012, in a surprise move, two women – former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore – were invited to join the club and so ended an 80 year all-male policy there.

Now, the question must be asked: How long will Ireland’s only two male-only clubs, The Royal Dublin Golf Club and Portmarnock Golf Club, remain as male-only bastions?

Surely it is a case of not if, but when . . .

Legally, as the Supreme Court ruled in a judgment delivered in November 2009, Portmarnock is quite entitled to a male-only membership policy. That ruling, delivered by Mr Justice Fennelly, brought an end to proceedings under the Equal Status Act that had started in the District Court in 2003 and also worked its way through the High Court before reaching the highest court in the land.

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