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Big Step for Women at the 'Home of Golf'

By: Nancy Berkley


Good news for women golfers was announced on Wednesday by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Located in Scotland, this most historic and most historically male-only private golf club in the world took a big step and announced it is proposing that women be admitted as members. The club's 2,400 worldwide members will vote on the proposal in September.

The news might not seem important to women golfers in the U.S., but in fact it may be the ultimate "tipping point" in ensuring that women's golf gets more attention. That's because the Royal and Ancient Golf Club has been a leader in setting policies and rules for centuries.

The club was established in 1754 and, as a private club, has been allowed to restrict its membership to men-only for the past 260 years. But like Augusta National, which admitted two women members two years ago, the Royal and Ancient must have recognized - as did Augusta - that gender roles throughout the world are changing rapidly.

With an increasing number of female world leaders and corporate executives, along with the increasing responsibility of women in the general workplace, as family managers and with increasingly globally-focused tournaments, a male-only membership policy is out of step. In fact, in my opinion, the male-only policy diminished and tarnished the reputation of the great Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

I welcome the change, especially since it's happening in Scotland, where Mary Queen of Scots, who reigned from 1545-158, is credited as being the first female golfer. It was during her rule that the famous golf course at St. Andrews was built. She is also credited with introducing the term "caddie" from the French "cadet."

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club's announcement is also timely because the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio are just two years away. For the first time in over 100 years, women's and men's golf will be included as an Olympic sport, and the two competitions will be equal in status and recognition. It will be country vs. country on a worldwide stage much, much bigger than the Ryder Club for men (U.S. vs. Europe) and Solheim Club for women (U.S. vs. Europe). To imagine that the female Olympic gold medal winners could not be members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is like playing golf with a blindfold on.

Elsewhere on the LPGA Tour

Inspired in part by the upcoming Olympics, the LPGA is offering its international warm-up this season with an inaugural event that recognizes LPGA players wear two hats: One for the LPGA Tour and one for their country of birth. The new match-play tournament is called the International Crown and will be played July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, M., not far from Washington D.C.

Caves Valley was one of those "women-not-welcome-here" clubs a decade ago. But, to their credit, Caves Valley, with its Tom Fazio-designed course, has decided to promote a women's tournament, an easy way to publicize their now nondiscriminatory gender membership policy. And this exciting new tournament should have just the kind of marketing sizzle that commissioner Mike Whan wants to promote the LPGA.

Just this past weekend, LPGA Tour played the RTBC Founders Cup tournament, which benefits the LPGA Girls Golf program - the future of the game, while honoring the past and the courageous visionaries who established the LPGA in 1950. The tournament winner, Karrie Webb from Australia, finished a stroke ahead of players from the U.S., New Zealand, Spain and South Korea. The event was played in Phoenix, Ariz., at the Wildfire Golf Club. Talk about global!

Webb made history on Sunday with her 41st victory, tying the great Babe Didrikson Zaharias for the number of all-time wins on the LPGA Tour. I was so pleased to add Webb's victory to my ongoing Timeline of the History of Women's Golf (beginning with Mary Queen of Scots in 1552 and currently ending with Webb's "tie" with the Babe, it can be found on my website at http://nancyberkley.com/774892.html).

The past few entries in my Timeline have been about Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson breaking records as the youngest golfers to be admitted to the LPGA. But seeing the 39-year-old Webb play and win reminds me why at my age I still love this game. It's a game for a lifetime, which is why I keep reminding readers of my message: "Be Healthy, Be Happy, Live Longer, Play Golf."

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.