Kevin Garside: Golf's outposts of prejudice should follow R&A's example and vote on whether to admit women
Early indications from the members are very positive indeed
Like statues of Lenin in former Soviet states, the last attachment to a bygone age is about to topple in golf, brought down from within. Common sense permitting, women are to be ordained into the golfing church of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the last bastion of Victoriana in sport.
The R&A chief executive, Peter Dawson, spoke a year ago about a direction of travel pushing tweed-suited members of golf's most important institution towards the modern age. To reach the voting stage within 18 months of that pronouncement represents warp speed, given the glacial pace at which decision-making proceeds in an environment as conservative as golf.
The committee of the R&A recommends that women are to be admitted to the club as members, a motion that is to be put to the vote in September. We can safely assume which way the decision will go. The committee has not brought the issue to the fore to have its anachronistic misogyny reinforced so publicly.
The Open returns to the home of the R&A, St Andrews, next year. The last thing the game needs is to revisit then a debate that rumbled so negatively a year ago at Muirfield, and which should have ended when women burnt their bras.
"This is welcome news from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and I urge its members to follow their committee's recommendations and vote 'yes' for women members," said the Sports Minister, Helen Grant. "It would mark a step in the right direction for the sport and I would hope encourage the remaining golf clubs that still have anachronistic single-sex member policies to follow suit."
Are you listening Muirfield, Royal St George's and Troon, the other remaining outposts of patriarchal prejudice? Though Dawson insists the move to admit women to the R&A after 260 years has not been made with the Open Championship in mind, it is hard to see how those who persist in keeping women out can survive on the nine-strong rota.
"We very much hope once the vote is taken we will be welcoming women to the club. It's something that has been expected; I'm not going to say overdue but I'm sure I'll be asked that question," Dawson said.
"Early indications from the members are very positive indeed. We obviously wouldn't be entering this if we didn't feel there was strong member support for this and I hope that turns out to be the case.
"We have seen other organisations have more than one bite at this and [if there were a no vote] we would have to decide whether to come again or not. One has to pick one's time for this. Let's hope we have picked the right one.
"We have been talking about this for quite a while and it's our governance role which has been the driving factor. Society is changing, sport is changing, golf is changing and I think it's appropriate for a governing body to take this step. This is not about the Open Championship. This is about our governance role."
Women's membership at golf clubs has dropped by 20 per cent from the 2005 high of 210,000. Participation among men is also falling. There are issues to do with cost and time that discourage engagement.
By giving women the same status as men, the game projects an inclusive message that might yet precipitate greater change. Why not throw in a crèche and make the game a family affair at weekends? By opening its doors the game has nothing to lose but its exclusivity, vital if the lapsed golfer is to return.
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