Clubhouse at St Andrews still provides no women locker rooms
R&A HQ is the height of plush but if a woman wants to change they’ll have to go elsewhere
The Royal and Ancient still do not provide changing facilities for women in their clubhouse headquarters at St Andrews Old Course. Photo: Glynn Kirk/Getty Images
More than two years after a historic vote by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club seemingly to end centuries of discrimination by admitting women to the club, female members still have no changing room inside the St Andrews clubhouse. Instead women, who were allowed to become members from September 2014, are obliged to use facilities 100 yards away in a separate building, the R&A-owned Forgan House.
The R&A, one of golf’s most august institutions, has said it is not practical to allow the women to change in the clubhouse. It has pointed to a lack of space – rather than prejudice – as the reason but, not for the first time, questions of perception and separation arise. Play the course and join the club by all means, but change your shoes and have a shower elsewhere please.
The club do not have any plans to build a women’s changing room in the main clubhouse. It is in fact proud of upgrades it has made to the second building. An R&A spokesman said: “We were delighted to welcome women as members of the club and made a substantial investment in our facilities to provide a modern and comfortable locker room for women members to use. Forgan House is an integral part of the club and is key to the service we provide to all our members as a mixed-sex golf club.”
The choice of premises is subtly significant. In 2002 the R&A made a concession that accompanied women could enter Forgan House, which was regarded as a reserve clubhouse but once served as the main one during renovation work. A circular to members 15 years ago reportedly described Forgan House as “a useful annexe to the club where, in particular, they can entertain lady guests”. Whereas the R&A clubhouse is instantly recognisable as behind the 1st tee of the Old Course, Forgan House lies on another street – The Links – easily lost among shops and hotels but at least affording visitors a decent view of the 18th green.
On its website the R&A describes the clubhouse opened in 1854 thus: “An iconic image, recognisable to golfers worldwide. Yet it is very different to the building unveiled in the middle of the 19th century. Each elevation has changed over time, a result of the expansion that has taken place to meet the needs of the growing membership.” Barring one such enhancement, of course.
Princess Anne and golfing luminaries Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam were among the first female R&A members. But the club refused to disclose to how many women have now joined its reputed 2,400-strong global membership. That in itself is an ominous glance back towards the veils of secrecy which once undermined golf’s reputation. Sources have disclosed there are unlikely to be more than 30 female members.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has called the refusal of another Scottish club, Muirfield, to allow women “simply indefensible”. The Scottish government also raised an eyebrow at the lack of a women’s changing room in the main clubhouse at St Andrews when contacted.
“The Scottish government is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all people living in Scotland and the opinion of Scottish ministers is that all golf clubs should be open to men and to women,” said a spokesperson. “We welcomed the members’ vote to admit women members at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews and hope any issue with changing facilities can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.”
Anyone with even loose knowledge of the R&A clubhouse – which features a library and a snooker room – will confirm it is not exactly a confined environment, meaning it is strange the implementation of a women’s locker room wasn’t confirmed before or immediately after the 2014 vote. Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the corporate wing of the R&A, enjoys one of the most spacious and luxurious office spaces in sport on the first floor. Dining and bar facilities are available alongside other administration elements.
The R&A’s decision to admit women after years of intense criticism had wide-ranging implications. As the custodians of the Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, the R&A could not legitimately refuse to stage the event at all-male clubs while applying the same principle at its club.
When the denizens of Muirfield did not vote in sufficient numbers to allow female members last May, the R&A immediately insisted the East Lothian links would not come under consideration to host the Open while such a stance applied. Muirfield’s Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is now expected to undertake another vote in the early stages of this year. What odds on an architect being commissioned, just in case?