Male-only debate is seriously flawed

2014 03 Randa Clubhouse

Some rather significant points were missed in the aftermath of last week’s announcement by the male-only Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews that it will, this September, ask its 2,500 members to vote on a motion to admit female members for the first time.


One. The identity of the organisation holding the vote. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and The R&A are not one and the same. Consequently, all of the reports that described The R&A as male-only are fundamentally wrong. The R&A, a separate entity and organisation born from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, has female employees on its pay roll. The R&A is not holding the vote; the golf club is.

Two. St Andrews is not voting on a decision to allow women to become members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. St Andrews is a town. None of the residents – other than those who are members of the club – will have any say in the outcome of the vote, in the same way as the residents of Augusta, Georgia, had no say in the decision by Augusta National Golf Club to admit female members two years ago. Only the members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which is in St Andrews, will be able to vote on this issue.

Three. And I believe this is the most important point of all. The real issue at the heart of these discussions should not be the existence of male-only golf clubs. The real issue should be the existence of single-gender golf clubs. That means both male-only golf clubs and female-only golf clubs.

Full disclosure. I’m not in favour of any golf club that has discriminatory membership policies. In an ideal world, anybody should be allowed to join any club they wish.
A club that doesn’t allow men is just as contemptible as a club that doesn’t allow women.

It’s not an ideal world, of course, and single-gender clubs are, in the eyes of the law at least, perfectly entitled to set whichever restrictions they please. That’s partly why we’re in the position we are today. We might not be if our bandwagon-riding politicians were prepared to show the courage of their convictions and table legislation to revoke the right of clubs to impose such out-dated rules. They won’t, though. Not when they can wag their fingers, self-promote, and sound off from a safe distance, free from reprisals and responsibility. But anyway…

Back to the matter in hand. It would be useful if the people discussing this matter would concentrate their attacks on single-gender clubs and not just male-only clubs.

A club that doesn’t allow men is just as contemptible as a club that doesn’t allow women. You can’t be offended by one and not the other and still expect to be a credible voice on the matter.

Here’s hoping the Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s members pass the vote and that it sets an example that is followed by the remaining single-gender golf clubs in the country.

At a time when we should be encouraging more people to take up the game – and, in this of all years, have the perfect platform to do it – it is lamentable that there are clubs out there, representing both genders, that would make increasing participation harder than it needs to be.

The male-only debate: Your thoughts


Do you agree with Michael McEwan that the 'male-only' golf club debate should really be more concerned with the issue of single-gender clubs on both sides of the gender divide? Or do you have a different opinion? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.

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