Women-free golf clubs? Some of us rather like them, says boss of the Royal and Ancient

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson defended Muirfield's men-only policy ahead of British Open

Social Affairs Correspondent

The head of golf's governing body has said that excluding women from clubs is not sexist, but part of "a way of life that [some people] rather like".

In an increasingly bizarre press conference ahead of tomorrow's 142nd British Open at Muirfield in Edinburgh, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson defended its men-only policy.

He said clubs who chose to keep women out "don't do anyone any harm", adding: "On the Saturday morning when the guy gets up or the lady gets up and out of the marital bed, if you like, and goes off and plays golf with his chums and comes back in the afternoon, that's not on any kind of par with racial discrimination or anti-Semitism or any of these things."

An increasing political storm about sexism in the game has seen the R&A come under pressure to change their policy towards "old boys' clubs" that continue to bar women. Muirfield is one of three clubs on the Open's nine course circuit which persists with men-only membership rules.

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, is one of a growing number of senior political figures and campaigners clamouring for change in the game. He is boycotting the tournament and said it was "indefensible in the 21st century" for clubs to exclude women.

Smaller-scale protests have also happened when the championship was staged at Royal St George's and Troon - the other all-male clubs - but Dawson said the R&A was inclined to resist the pressure for change, despite finding the issue "increasingly difficult."

Facing down the criticism, he said: "In our view they don't do anyone any harm and we think the right of freedom of association is important. And we've explained our view that we think they have no material adverse effect on participation."

He said it was "frankly absurd" to compare sexism in golf to whites-only clubs or other forms of discrimination, explaining: "I don't really think that a golf club which has a policy of being a place where like-minded men or, indeed, like-minded women, go and want to play golf together and do their thing together ranks up against some of these other forms of discrimination.

"It's just for some people a way of life that they rather like. I don't think in doing that they're intending to do others down or intending to do others any harm. You can dress it up to be a lot more, if you want."

In a sign that he had misread the seriousness of the political storm against him - which has even seen cabinet ministers Hugh Robertson and Maria Miller condemn the sport's archaic attitudes - he said that the issue of gender had been "pretty much beaten to death recently".

Despite conceding that he did "understand that this is a divisive issue," he went on to accuse politicians and the media of hyping up the situation. "We've got politicians posturing, we've got interest groups attacking the R&A, attacking The Open and attacking Muirfield. To be honest, our natural reaction is to resist these pressures, because we actually don't think they have very much substance."

British golf star Rory McIlroy reluctantly waded into the debate today, saying that such blatant discrimination "shouldn't happen these days".

"It's something that shouldn't happen these days. It's something that we shouldn't even be talking about", he said, "So that's why I guess a lot of people don't want to talk about it.

"Obviously it's an issue in some golf clubs. But in terms of life in general, I think men and women are treated equally for the most part these days. And that's the way it should be."

Commenting on other professional golfers' silence on the issue, he said: "I just think it's something that a lot of guys don't want to get themselves into because it's quite a controversial issue."

Club rules: Restricted membership

In a quirk of equality legislation, there is nothing to stop the persistence of men-only clubs and associations in Britain. A private society can restrict membership in whatever way it likes – it is only if it does allow both men and women to join, that the law says they have to be on an equal footing.

Around one per cent of golf courses are single sex, according to R&A, which claims around half of these are women-only. But any private association can restrict its membership – and many do. Some progress has been achieved through funding threats. Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s, for example, voted to allow women members in 1998, after it became clear that no Lottery funding would be forthcoming if they did not reform their men-only rules. 

Gentlemen’s clubs – such as the member’s-only Garrick club – continue in Britain, despite attempts from women to join. Two years ago the actress Joanna Lumley tried – and failed – to join the club.

The elite Carlton club, usually the chosen club of every Conservative leader, broke their men-only policy to allow Margaret Thatcher an honorary membership. Until 2008 she was still the only female member.

In a bid to counter the culture of stuffy gentlemen’s clubs, the female-only Grace Belgravia club was established last year. It is the capital’s first women-only private members’ club.

Emily Dugan

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice