Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, has called on golf clubs such as Muirfield that refuse to admit female members to "think long and hard" about retaining their controversial single-sex policies.
As the Augusta National Golf Club hosts its first Masters since deciding to open its doors to women members, Miller believes that sports governing bodies have to ensure they stage major events at venues that "understand the importance of having men and women" involved.
This summer Muirfield will host the Open for the 16th time, and the first since 2002, and like other Open hosts Royal St Georges and Royal Troon, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers does not permit female members. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrew's – now technically a separate entity to the R&A, the game's governing body – does not have women members either.
"Golf clubs are private clubs and it is for them to set their rules and that's absolutely how it should be," Miller told The Independent. "But with golf being a growing sport that women want to participate in I really think that clubs that take that attitude [of not allowing female members] should be thinking long and hard about where they go in the future. If they want to be successful in the future they should be reaching out to women and really looking how they can involve them."
The United States Golf Association does not allow clubs with single-sex policies to host the US Open, but the R&A have no such qualms over the Open. It was last played at a single-sex club, St Georges in Sandwich, in 2011 when Peter Dawson, the R&A's chief executive defended the male-only policy. In 2016 – the year golf becomes an Olympic sport and part of an organisation that prides itself on its sporting equality – Troon, on Scotland's west coast, will host the Open. Women are permitted to play the courses but not become members of the clubs.
"It is for sporting bodies to be responsible and think hard about where they stage events and how they stage them," said Miller, who has sought to actively promote women's sport since succeeding Jeremy Hunt as the head of the Department for Cuture, Media and Sport after the Olympics.
"All of the sporting organisations that I speak to are really understanding and conscious of getting women involved in their events.
"Those sporting bodies will be asking themselves questions, making sure they are holding events at places that understand the importance of having men and women involved in their sport."
Golf in the UK receives some £13m of funding from Sport England towards increasing participation. "The public face of sport is important," said Jennie Price, Sport England's chief executive at the launch of a £24m funding boost for the Sportivate programme, aimed at encouraging more 14- to 25-year-olds into sport. "I do think that the image that a sport displays to the world is significant and it does say things about the sport."
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