At last: Golf's most exclusive club will let women play for the first time

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is urging its members to end its men-only status after 260 years

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The golfing world edged a little closer to the 21st century on Wednesday after the sport’s most exclusive club revealed it was poised to stamp out sexism and allow women to play on its courses for the first time.

The hugely powerful Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is urging its members to end its men-only status after 260 years. The U-turn comes after a row blew up last summer ahead of the Open Championship at Muirfield, which also excludes women members. Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, boycotted the event in protest, calling the male-only rule “indefensible in the 21st century”.

An R&A spokesman said: “The club’s committees are strongly in favour of the rule change and are asking members to support it.” Letters have been sent to all 2,400 members of the Fife club asking them to back the vote, which will require a two-thirds majority to pass, and will be held on 18 September, the same date as the Scottish referendum.

The move is expected to pave the way for the Open to be hosted solely at mixed-membership clubs. It follows the announcement 19 months ago that Augusta National, the Georgia club that hosts the Masters in the US, would allow women to join.

The St Andrews club has been the guardian of the rules of the game since 1754, although in 2004 it devolved responsibility for the administration of the game and the Open to the newly-formed R&A. The R&A’s chief executive, Peter Dawson, said it was time for this change to be made because sport has changed and so has society. He added that it would “undesirable” for the 2,500 members to vote against the motion.

UK Sport and Equalities Minister Helen Grant said: “This is welcome news from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and I urge its members to follow their committees’ recommendations and vote ‘yes’ for women members. It would make a step in the right direction for the sport and I would hope encourage the remaining golf clubs that still have anachronistic single-sex members policies to follow suit.”

Scotland’s Sport Minister Shona Robison agreed, adding: “This is great news for golf and sport in Scotland. As the founding club of The R&A, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is an important institution and can provide an example for change that other clubs will endorse and follow.”