Portmarnock's motivation for change feels a bit bogey at this stage
The 'gentlemen' out on the peninsula are being less vocational than transactional it seems
Portmarnock GC: is the club seeking change for the same reason the British clubs did? In order to be able to host prestigious tournaments such as the Irish Open. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty
Daybreak yesterday on the yoga mat. The red phone in the corner, code secured in its Perspex casing, started to vibrate mid Downward Dog pose. That’s also when the internal alarm bells began to ring. A flicking appendix, yodelling from the duodenum.
Then, as if a favourite Orange Lodge, The Royal Arch Purple Order, had thrown its doors open to Fenians, the news dropped.
Portmarnock Golf Club were considering “that Rule 3 be amended by the removal of the four words ‘who shall be Gentlemen.’” Then the thought came, “jeez has ‘who shall be Gentlemen’ not already been removed and put on the pyre”. Corpse pose.
Portmarnock, that great Triceratops thrashing around in the Jurassic ooze, sinking under its own weight of apex self-regard, won a High Court case in 2005, which ruled it was not a “discriminating” club under the terms of the Equal Status Act 2000 because it falls within an exception provided for in that Act.
Still, it has remained in a defensive crouch ever since. In the court of public opinion, having law on your side that says discriminating against women is not actually discriminating isn’t always a clever look. Once an object of finger-wagging disdain, the Portmarnock question has, of its own momentum, moved towards tragi-comic farce. Happy mask, sad mask.
The court case was a tone-deaf dash for the winning line, the golf club flexing a particular kind of muscle. Given the age profile it was some feat. But no open top bus ride through the city to the Mansion House.
Now, despite the towel-slapping success, the club finds itself lamely trailing along after other fallen dinosaurs such as the Royal and Ancient, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers aka Muirfield, Royal Troon and this year’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, British Open Championship venue, Royal St George’s.
All are former male bastions arm-twisted into admitting women as members after they failed to realise that every writhe in the mud served to sink them down and not as they thought, raise them from extinction.
Awkwardly aligned with other bands of ornery-minded men like the must marchers of the Garvaghy Road, even with the law on their side their stubborn inflexibility has, until now, fogged positions as time lurched ahead without them. It is a kind of slow death with a voyeuristic sadness to their self-suspension in a present of decades ago.
Sometime in the next century the revisionist wing in the school of legislative archaeology will unearth the paper fossils of the Portmarnock Golf Club full membership hymn sheet and falsely declare them a paradigm of their time.
But we are rushing ahead. A special general meeting by Zoom at the end of the month will first vote to temporarily make an amendment to club rules to allow an online or postal ballot and then decide what majority will be required to pass a motion on the gender issue.
The menu is broad. They could decide it should be “50 per cent plus one, 55 per cent, 60 per cent or 66.7 per cent”.
So, it seems Portmarnock now understands just what women want. Didn’t we know that all along? In the same way the mangy cat knows what the cat litter is for. Repressed men in their brass and wood-panelled clubhouse wanting us to believe they are finally recovering following modern thinking therapy. Or at least acknowledging the problem.
But that’s all a razz too. Even though Justice Kevin Higgins ruled there was “nothing inherently undesirable with persons seeking, in a social context, the society of persons of the same gender or the same nationality or the same religion,” it was a pyrrhic victory.
Portmarnock is seeking change for the same reason the British clubs did, not to deal with its repression, cretaceous crisis or indeed possible disruption to lunch arrangements. But to host prestigious tournaments such as the Irish Open, into which public money is directed.
The lads out on the peninsula are being less vocational than transactional, although some credit maybe for coming around to seeing the great game of golf being just as important as the club.
In the future, they might not be able to see the pro shop for all the Porsche Cayennes, soft top Audis and electric run arounds. There might be Yellow Tail on the wine list and morning Astanga. But hey, they will be back on the tournament rota.
Well then, god speed Portmarnock. Let’s not have as Muirfield did, the Real and obedient Wives of Gullane, East Lothian come out and say, in the way of opposition to women membership, “our husbands would have to pay thousands of pounds for our entry fee and our subscriptions”.
Of course, that will be the case. It has been the case ever since Christmas Eve 1893, when WC Pickeman and George Ross rowed over from Sutton to explore the 500 acres and possibility of creating a golf links.
These things, it is only when they happen, you know they have happened. The vote, if and when it takes place, will be a latter-day spectacle. But no reason at all to wait another 200 million years.