Adapting to life under the new Equality Act has not been easy for most golf clubs, particularly those who've been male-dominated for 100 years or more.
The culture shock for the lads has been bad enough but when the many implications kick in, it becomes very complicated. It's a little like health and safety. The guidelines seem simple but then come the wacky interpretations fed by fear of the law, and before you know it they are banning conkers and dodgems.
So it is that socks are the centre of a heated debate at our club. The recent outbreak of sunny weather has brought an early appearance of players wearing shorts.
This is permissible under our dress code as long as you wear socks which cover the ankle and are predominately white. What were banned were "shoe socks", i.e. socks that just cover the foot and are barely visible above the rim of the shoe. When someone appeared with shoe socks at last month's medal they were politely admonished by the captain, who was told that, under the Equality Act, ifthe women were allowed to wear them so should the men.
Women have a separate dress code and, female golfing footwear being a far more dainty affair, they were happy with shoe socks. The subject was brought up on committee and, after much argument, a slim majority approved shoe socks for men.
Apparently, the feeling was that if we didn't allow the same sock arrangement for the men as for the women, we could be sued for a large amount of money for breaching the act and for causing hurt feelings.
As an unashamed traditionalist, I view these developments with alarm. When I was captain of the club 20 years ago we banned shorts for male golfers mainly because of the sights we were seeing on the course. Some shorts were so brief the wearers needed a bikini wax, while others wore shorts so long they looked like Don Estelle in It Ain't Half Hot Mum.
The ban was rescinded a year or so later, but for anyone not enthralled by the sight of male legs in various stages of exposure, the standard of dress on the course is lapsing steadily. But it doesn't end there. There are other areas of discrepancy in the dress codes for men and women, such as sleeveless blouses. And women can wear their tops outside their trousers but men can't.
Then there's facial jewellery. A long-standing rule against earrings and studs was invoked last year when a man appeared with a stud through his eyebrow. If he reappeared next week wearing a pair of chandelier earrings, would we risk a legal suit if he was requested to remove them?
This must seem an absurdly trivial subject to non-golfers, but golf's unrivalled strength as a game is founded on strict and very often self-administered rules that seem petty but you tamper with them at your peril. I doubt if the massive intellects responsible for the act realised the implications of their diktat, or that the first victims would be thousands of women who find themselves faced with higher subscriptions. Some have had to give up club memberships. They were content to play once or twice a week for a reduced annual fee but now must pay a full fee which can be hundreds of pounds.
The status of the club captain, established over hundreds of years, is also affected, but this is a subject I'll return to. Not for the first time, governmental incompetence has made a mess for others to sort out.Reuse content