Sexual discrimination: The grouchy clubs

In the US, Augusta National has relaxed its famously sexist rules by a smidgen. Some establishments here have yet to even do that, an irate Harriet Walker reports

News just in from the 18th century: women admitted into fusty crap club. Actually, that happened only yesterday, when former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore were granted membership of the notoriously exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. It was one small step for man, one giant leap for womankind.

Or was it? The stipulations required to join the club – beyond simply having a penis – are vague at best, and these two fragrant additions to the green-jacketed stiffs are exceptions to the antediluvian rule rather than the dawning of a new era.

The Augusta National has not re-considered its "no women" policy so much as extended hospitality to two individuals of the female persuasion that it feels are most like men. You don't apply for membership there – you're invited by the existing members, and while the exact fees are not known, they're rumoured to in the region of five figures.

It just so happens that members haven't much fancied having a woman about the place until now and that most people in possession of that much money are – you guessed it – men.

"This is a new and positive time in our club's history," its chairman Billy Payne said this week. "I wanted to take the opportunity to welcome them… into the Augusta National family." Well, excuse me, Bill, but a family without a woman in it sounds like a family that might one day die out.

One of Britain's last outposts of arcane sexism, the Marylebone Cricket Club – owners of Lord's – extended a welcome to women in 1998 – thoughtful of them, seeing as, under the previous rules, even its patron The Queen wouldn't have been allowed into the Long Room bar for cigars and whiff-whiff.

But the practice abides in many private establishments – snooty clubs such as White's (where members once bet £3,000 on which raindrop would reach the windowsill first), the Garrick and Boodle's continue to bar their doors to women. Are they worried we'll make a mess on the carpet? Or that our harpyish shrieks will echo through their joyless halls, as we cavort like trollops at the bingo?

When Magdalene College, Cambridge, first admitted women in 1988, male students wore black armbands in protest, flew the flag at half-mast and carried a coffin through the quad. They're even more hysterical than we are, these blokes. Those cheeky bastions would do well to take a leaf out of the New Cavendish Club's book. Originally established for women in 1920, it accepted male members in 1959 in a forward-thinking spirit of inclusivity.

But clubs such as Pratt's and Savage seem intent on living up to their names. And the Flyfishers Club, too, although that's a moot point, given that no women would want to join anyway.

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