Gender parity in golf moved a step closer today after it was revealed that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the founding club of The R&A, will vote on a motion to admit women as members.
The news follows persistent speculation about the future of the club’s male-only policy. The issue, the subject of much debate for a number of years, has intensified over the past 18 months to two years, following the decision by Augusta National Golf Club – host of the Masters Tournament – to allow women to join its club.
Former US secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, and Darla Moore, a South Carolina financier, attended last year's Masters wearing their Green Jackets for the first time last year.
That brought pressure upon The R&A to follow suit - pressure which intensified last summer with the Open Championship being played at Muirfield, home of the male-only Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
During the championship, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson was tackled about the issue and admitted that it was ‘a subject we’re finding increasingly difficult’.
He added: “When things are a bit quieter, after the championship, I'm quite sure we'll be taking a look at everything to see what kind of sense we can make of it for the future.”
The outcome of those findings appears to have been delivered today with a brief statement which read: “Members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the founding club of The R&A, will vote on a motion to admit women as members. The Club’s committees are strongly in favour of the rule change and are asking members to support it. The vote is scheduled to take place in September of this year.”
"Whichever way the vote falls, it will have significant ramificiations for Dawson and The R&A."
The outcome of that vote will be interesting on two fronts. One, whether or not it is carried. And, two, what the wider implications of it being carried might be.
The first part is by no means a foregone conclusion. Shortly before Christmas last year, The Scotsman revealed that members of Royal Burgess in Edinburgh had been presented with a similar opportunity and voted 69-64 against admitting female members.
Should The R&A’s motion fair differently, however, it is reasonable to wonder what impact that might have on other male-only golf clubs, particularly the three others on the Open Championship rota: Royal St George’s, Royal Troon, and Muirfield.
Will they look at The R&A’s bold move as an example that they should follow? Or will they persist with the status quo and perhaps lose their place on the rota - thereby giving The R&A an altogether different kind of headache - as a result?
Amid all the uncertainty, there is at least one inevitability: the result of the vote, whichever way it falls, will have significant ramificiations for Dawson and The R&A.
Long-standing supporter HSBC has already spoken of the ‘uneasy position’ it finds itself in because of the organisation’s founding club’s male-only policy. Its global head of sponsorship and events, Giles Morgan, said that the issue was ‘not not something we are going to hold a gun to their heads about’ but warned: “When you are showcasing one of the world's greatest tournaments, it would be much more palatable if it were played where there was not a sense of segregation.”
A reasonable assumption would be that other benefactors of The R&A and the Open Championship share that view.
This September's vote, therefore, promises to be a major milestone in the history of golf’s oldest club and one of the sport’s most influential institutions, Whether that is a good or bad chapter to its history, only time will tell.
The R&A and the vote: Will it pass?
Do you think the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews will pass the motion to allow female members to join? What impact will the decision have on The R&A? Leave your thoughts and reactions to today’s news in our ‘Comments’ section below.