The first female principal of St Andrews University says she has been taunted by members of the town’s prestigious Royal and Ancient golf club after they excluded her because of her sex.
Honorary membership to the club is a traditional perk of running the university: not least because it lies just 600 yards from the campus. But when Louise Richardson was appointed in 2009 the tradition was abruptly brought to an end.
Professor Richardson has spoken for the first time of her treatment by the club - which includes its members waving their club ties at her in provocation.
The Royal and Ancient golf club was once celebrated for being the home of the game but now even the golf establishment is turning against its anachronistic men-only admissions policy. In September the club will vote on whether to amend the controversial policy on the same day as Scotland goes to the polls to decide independence.
Peter Dawson, the head of golf’s governing body, which is based at the club, got himself into trouble last summer when he said that excluding women from the club was “part of a way of life [some people] like” that “didn’t do anyone any harm”.
Professor Richardson, who is Irish-American, came to the university from Harvard, where she was executive dean of the university’s institute for advanced study. The political scientist is an enthusiastic golfer and said the club’s snubbing of her had made it harder to do the networking necessary for the job.
Describing how other women at the university have been offended on her behalf, she said: “Once or twice, female professors have seen me in situations where I’m surrounded by men wearing their R&A ties, and they get really upset and offended for me,” she said.
Some of the members even wave their ties at her “to draw my attention, lest I didn’t notice”. She added: “They think that’s funny.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Professor Richardson described how being barred from membership had hindered her job: “A supporter of the university got in touch and asked if he could possibly have lunch at the R&A today,” she said. “I had to arrange for somebody I know to take him to lunch at the R&A because, of course, I can’t. And I had to arrange for another member of the staff to take his wife to lunch some place in town because, of course, she can’t get into the R&A, either.”
She added: “Here’s St Andrew’s University, ranked third in the UK, we’re an organisation of 10,000 people, we support 9,000 jobs, I run this place very successfully and I’m not allowed in the clubhouse 600 yards from my house?”
Wives are allowed into special weekend occasions at the club but Professor Richardson said that she will not attend until the ban on women is lifted.
“I should say I have occasionally been invited into the clubhouse,” she said. “I think once a month on a Sunday, wives that are well-behaved are invited to a lunch, something like that. People have said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take you to a lunch’. But I’ve said: ‘I’m not eating in the clubhouse until women can enter.’”
The Royal and Ancient golf club did not respond to The Independent’s requests for comment.