The Hacker: Small but perfectly formed in Surrey

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The Independent Online

When many of our golf clubs were being founded 100 years or so ago it was, not surprisingly, men who led the way. They had the wherewithal to acquire the ground, hire pros to design the courses, build clubhouses and organise matters.

But it wasn't long before women began taking interest. Never content to see men enjoy themselves, they wanted to join in. Some men refused point-blank, but most of the newly formed clubs weakened and allowed the ladies to form their own section as long as they played when the men were at work and didn't interfere. These conditions still apply at many clubs.

So were sown the seeds of the conflict between the golfing sexes that still simmers and occasionally erupts. Sadly, because I number several lady golfers among my very good friends, I have been drawn into this controversy a few times, and my traditionalist views have led me to side with the male dinosaur faction.

At many clubs, women don't have a vote - I belong to two - and there are still men-only bars in some clubhouses. As a matter of fact, I shall be going to one as soon as I finish writing this.

This does not mean I am unsympathetic. In one of the many articles I have written on the subject, I laid the fault for this enduring schism on our founders. Had they insisted at the start that the ladies went off and formed their own clubs, we would have many more golf courses and far less friction between us.

In 1902, Edward Villiers had the same idea. A member at Sunningdale, still one of our more exclusive clubs, Edward was being pestered by his wife and her friends to be allowed to play.

His answer was to buy them a large plot of land a few hundred yards away and suggest that they start their own club. This they did, and the Sunningdale Ladies Golf Club is still going strong 105 years later - although not as strongly as they would like.

They are looking for more members. Unlike their male counterparts they do not curl a lip at the opposite sex, and men are welcome to join. Both sexes play from the same tees.

Their course is on the short side. Designed by the renowned Harry Colt, it measures less than 4,000 yards and has 11 par threes and seven par fours. People who have played it tell me it is a lovely track set in the superb terrain of that area. Peter Alliss says that it like looking through the wrong end of a telescope: everything is perfectly proportioned but smaller.

The Queen Mother used to be a patron, and Prince Andrew has played in their annual open competition, the Fleming Foursomes.

Perhaps it is the name that puts men off joining but, for the area, the fees seem reasonable. Although the joining fee of £1,500 is the same for both, the men pay an annual sub of £760 against the women's £620. There are much lower rates for juniors. There is no women-only bar; everyone drinks in the same place.

However, it is worth pointing out that although they pay a higher sub, men don't have voting rights. Given the game's history, we can hardly blame the ladies for that.

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