Royal Dublin Golf Club embraces gender equality after vote

Constitution to be amended which in effect will allow Dublin club’s first female member

In the end, it was all done rather quietly, discreetly even, with no fanfare or fuss – as Royal Dublin Golf Club, just the 136 years since it was founded, moved to formally adopt a policy of "gender equality" into its constitution which in effect will allow for the north Dublin club's first female member.

Founded in 1885, the private members’ club – located on the world heritage site of north Bull Island – never actually banned women members. It’s just that no woman was ever granted such a status and, apparently, none had applied for membership in donkeys’ years.

But that is all set to change, after a special general meeting of the club on Wednesday night approved overwhelmingly proposals to adopt the governing principles of Golf Ireland which include gender equality as an integral part of its being.

Of the 47 rules and principles voted through by the club’s membership, it is the one on gender that is arguably the most pertinent of all:


“All genders are equally valued within the membership without discrimination and enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all membership categories and the opportunity to apply for membership, when open, is available to all genders,” read the statement, issued by the club in welcoming the pathway forward in determining its new structure.

The open-door policy will usher in a new era for the famous club, which has played host to six Irish Opens (most recently in 1985, won by Seve Ballesteros in a playoff with Bernhard Langer).

While Royal Dublin never had any rule that women could not be members, the situation traditionally was that it remained effectively a men-only membership for the fact that no woman actually joined the club. The adoption of the Golf Ireland principles as part of an overhaul of the club's constitution will ensure that gender equality will mean exactly that.

Wednesday night’s special general meeting overwhelmingly supported the adoption of the Golf Ireland principles (believed to be a 90 per cent vote in favour) and, in so doing, also moves the club in line with the R&A’s gender policy and the possibility of staging their amateur championships, both men and women.

What about Portmarnock?

Earlier this year, Portmarnock Golf Club changed its constitution to end its male-only membership policy (with a majority of 83.4 per cent in favour) so that women could be accepted, so ending a 127-year ban on women. In so doing, Portmarnock again became available to play host to R&A championships (including possibly the Open itself) but also to stage the Irish Open, which it last held in 2003 but which was out of bounds, so to speak, since then due to its male-only membership policy.

Portmarnock, now, is in line to potentially host the Irish Open in 2027, the 100th anniversary of its inaugural staging on the north Dublin links.

It remains to be seen if Royal Dublin will also throw its hat into the ring at a future point to stage the Irish Open but this latest move – although there is no timeline on when or who will be the first woman member – is indicative of a strong international move in recent years to ensure gender equality in golf clubs.

Just as Augusta National in the United States did (in 2012), the R&A's move to omit any single-gender membership club from its Open rota has resulted in Royal Troon, Muirfield and Royal St George's all ending their male-only membership policies. The R&A itself had ended its male-only membership policy in 2014 and has been hugely progressive in recent years in advancing the women's in golf charter as a fundamental policy.

Royal Dublin’s move may not quite fall into the same category as the Troons and Muirifelds and even Portmarnocks – given that it was not officially male only, the old constitution not being gender specific and so enabling it to evade much of the debate that so often fell on the old shoulders of Portmarnock Golf Club further up the coast – but the move, achieved with no little stealth, is another significant move forward for gender equality in golf.

Just when the first woman member will be made remains to be seen. For instance, Augusta National brought in Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore as its first two women members in a drip-drip policy rather than an opening of the floodgates, and Portmarnock Golf Club has yet to confirm its first women members.

The thing is, now it is a matter of when. Not if.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times