R&A Golf Club: Fear of dissent, not women, stalks golf clubs



If you thought Britain had joined the 21st century, think again.

Reading the comments on the news that golf’s spiritual home, the Royal and Ancient of St Andrews, is likely to allow women to join is like glimpsing an excerpt from “Men are from Blandings, Women are Aunt Julias”. P G Wodehouse’s idyllic 1930s world, where the peace is  shattered only by Jennifer Saunders as the bossy matriarch, lives on. The men fear that if St Andrews falls under the heel of the size four spiked, pastel golf shoe, they will have to wait hours for a tee time and, worse, be unable to escape their womenfolk.

As a woman golfer, I welcome the idea that women can, as members, enjoy the greatest, subtlest course in the world, where every breath of wind makes a difference to your approach. But I don’t think it’s particularly the blokedom of golf that is the problem. There are plenty of minor inequities – why do women need to put in a card every year to keep their handicap, for example? – but it’s not the barmy, anti-female apartheid of those who run the game that spoils it. It’s the (gender-blind) small mindedness.

I am often approached by women I have never met, in the ladies’ changing room of the golf club to which I’ve belonged since 1974, with that curious expression of a she-lion dressed in plus fours, to ask me, “Are you a member?” (Well, why wouldn’t I be?) And then there was the letter asking me never to bring my (trying hard to be smart) nephews again, dressed as they were in their best black jeans and my sneakers. Or the woman who, seeing me sitting blamelessly on the terrace, thought I was in  need of some gratuitous bossing-about and ordered me not to go into the clubhouse with my spikes on.

David Hockney’s very small badge with the slogan “End Bossyness Soon” is one of my favourite battlecries. (He decided on “soon” because he thought “now” sounded too bossy). Golf clubs can be great; they are an important haven of camaraderie for older people who have maybe lost a partner, a cosy refuge where they are always welcome. I just wish their oldster bent towards a Val Doonican-meets-Stepford Wife dress code could be widened a bit so that everyone could co-exist.

My beef is more with the laminator mentality. Let loose with a set of poorly spelled regulations on a plastic sheet, these people run amok. Today it’s dress code in the bar; tomorrow, the world. Tom Cox’s excellent book Nice Jumper describes the invisible ceiling in the club he nicknames Par-adise, which he tries to join as a young man, and which judges him on his father’s clapped-out car rather than on his ricochetingly powerful and accurate golf swing. My lovely father used to wear whatever he liked and didn’t take any notice of any rules. Being a man, he could do that, and if women ever feel that comfortable in a golf club, I’ll be delighted. But their gender isn’t the real issue.

Emma Hope is a shoe designer

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