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St. Andrews Golf Club to Admit Women Members?


Various reports from the U.K. are indicating that, for the first time in its 163 years, St. Andrews Golf Club will be accepting women members. The move is coming due to a new article in Britain's Equality law, which forbids any private club or organization to practice any form of gender discrimination.

The decision isn't final. The club's members committee will meet in May to discuss the issue and decide whether to allow female golfers or continue its ban on them.

A letter was sent out to members that read: "It may be that the club rules would need to be made clearer and more robust. After much consideration and discussion, as well as a meeting with the past captains and trustees of the club to make them aware of the position, the committee of management is recommending that option be adopted as the best way, in their opinion, of safeguarding the long-term well-being of St. Andrews Golf Club."

The letter noted that a ban on women could be a "retrograde step" and listed the options to be considered at the May meeting.

"Firstly, it could operate as at present with members and their male guests being permitted to use the members' lounge. This would result in no lady guests being permitted at all in the clubhouse, as all guests must be given the same rights of access under the Act."

Club officials reportedly are supporting a third option that would allow members and guests - regardless of gender - into all public areas of the clubhouse. "After much consideration and discussion, as well as a meeting with the past captains and trustees of the club to make them aware of the position, the committee of management is recommending that option three be adopted as the best way, in their opinion, of safeguarding the long-term wellbeing of St. Andrews Golf Club."

Agnes Tolmie, chair of the Scottish Women's Convention, is pleased with the possible change in policy. "This is an absolutely fantastic initiative. We shouldn't have any area of the sporting world where women are excluded. It will send out a message in the area, particularly to the R&A, that it's time they thought again."

Founded in 1754, the R&A has 2,500 members worldwide. Its recalcitrance in admitting women members has been criticized in the past by Scottish government officials. Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, lambasted the club in 2009 when it refused to extend honorary membership to the newly appointed principal of St. Andrew's University, Dr. Louise Richardson, because she was a woman.

Interestingly, area women's golf associations are less enthusiastic about St. Andrews' policy revision. "We have absolutely no problem with single-gender clubs at all," said Shona Malcolm, chief executive officer of the Ladies Golf Union, which has 3,000 affiliated women-only clubs. "We're very supportive of single-gender clubs; what it does is allow golfers the freedom to choose what kind of club they want to join."

Sheila Hartley, the company secretary of the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association that has 442 affiliated women-only clubs, said other clubs that have overturned their female-only rules caused problems for new distaff members, who experienced unfairness and sexism after joining.

Hartley, too, was comfortable with single-sex clubs: "It appears to be only an issue to the public when it's male-only clubs. There are female-only clubs and that doesn't appear to be an issue."

St. Andrews is not the only male-only golf club that doesn't allow women to play its courses. Probably the most famous example is Augusta National, the home of the Masters Tournament, which has a similar male-only rule.

Scotland's flagship golf club was founded in 1843 as the St. Andrews Mechanics Golf Club by 11 friends that included George Morris, older brother of the legendary "Old" Tom Morris, a four-time British Open champion. Other members include "Young" Tom Morris, who won four straight Claret Jugs between 1868 and 1872, three-time British Open champion Jack Nicklaus, and Scotland's last Open winner, Paul Lawrie.

Since its inception the club has used the terms "gentlemen" for the members and "boys" for the juvenile members.