The fairer sex takes a swing for golfing equality

Rigid attitudes have kept Britain's golf clubs a male preserve. Jojo Moyes reports
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The Independent Online
On the pleasant green fairways of Langley Park Golf Club in Beckenham, Kent, the ladies agreed: Coronation Street's ratings must be going down. Why else would the actor Johnny Briggs, better known as the chauvinist Mike Baldwin, opine in a magazine that women golfers were "an abomination ... take liberties, don't know the rules ... and take over everything like cockroaches".

"You can't take it seriously," said Maureen Hitchens, who has played golf for 10 years. "We know that attitude exists - there's probably one of him in every club - but it says more about him than it does about women golfers." Her friend, 23-year-old Michelle Donovan, who plays off 17 after just two years, agreed. "I laughed when I saw it. I wouldn't take him seriously for a minute. I think they're very sad." She added: "It's very much an age thing as well. Some of these men just feel threatened."

But some of them don't need to. Whatever Mr Briggs' feelings, Britain's golf clubs are still overwhelmingly a male preserve, according to players. They may agree with equality in theory, but practice was quite another matter.

Michael Lunt, secretary of the 1,300-member Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Course in Richmond, south-west was keen to stress the admirable qualities of its 350 lady members. "By and large ladies behave extremely well on the course, equally as well as men if not better," he affirmed. But this did not necessarily mean they got equal access to his course. "They don't have equal access. They're not allowed in the men's bar, there's a mixed bar. Otherwise they have pretty well equal rights. There are some restrictions on one of the courses which they can't play on, but in my opinion considering they pay two-thirds of what men pay here they get the best deal on any course," he said.

"I know some people would like to vote on club matters at the AGM but there are others that are happy with the status quo. They run their own operation in fact." So significant numbers of women didn't want to change things? "I wouldn't know if significant numbers wanted to change things."

According to Liz Kahn, a golf writer and author of The LPGA: The unauthorised version, the Royal Mid-Surrey is far from unusual. "In most clubs in the country most women don't have the vote, don't have access to all the bars, they don't pay the same subscription - even if they want to - and they are restricted at weekends. A lot of these clubs seem to work on the basis that women will play on weekdays after they've done the housework," she said.

On the Continent, she said, clubs were completely mixed and equal - "they can't believe what goes on here." Mrs Kahn, who has been writing on golf for nearly 30 years, said she was known as "the Suffragette" on account of the number of men-only areas she had been "removed" from. One golfing association had told her she couldn't join "as they didn't give women's prizes". "I said `what do you give, balls?'".

She said things have changed, but painfully slowly. Part of the problem is the self-perpetuating nature of the clubs. "There are a lot of men in golf clubs who have very rigid attitudes and unfortunately golf clubs attract these sorts of people. They reinforce each other by including people who join the club who think as they think. They don't invite radicals."

The other problem is the women themselves. "The problem is that a lot of them won't make a fuss. The club is their life and their husband is probably paying the subscription. If they rock the boat he gets it, you know: `What's your wife doing creating trouble?' "