R&A set to allow women members after 260 years

Tue Sep 16, 2014 11:20am EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - It is a simple yes or no vote but Thursday's ballot could end two-and-half centuries of division in Scotland. So, will women be allowed to become members of the Royal and Ancient golf club?

True, it is probably not as pressing an issue as the future of the United Kingdom, also to be decided on Thursday via the referendum on Scottish independence, but in golfing and equality circles it marks something of a landmark.

The Royal and Ancient is one of the oldest - some say the oldest - golf clubs in the world, having been founded in 1754 with its members playing on the links of St Andrews, renowned as the "home of golf."

While Augusta, host of the U.S. Masters since 1934, has secured a special place in the heart of the sport as the only permanent home of a major championship, it is very much a johnny-come-lately alongside the links of St Andrews, which has held the British Open a record 28 times, the first in 1873.

Women are allowed to play golf at St Andrews as the course is administered by a separate operation, and the women's British Open was held there last year. But if the players fancy a drink after their rounds in the imposing clubhouse they have had to think again.

To add to the confusion, the Royal and Ancient was divided 10 years ago to keep the playing side separate from the governance operation, as the R&A is the rulemaking body for the sport around the world apart from the United States and Mexico.

Thursday's vote is to allow women to join the club which will host the men's Open again next year. However, as members of the R&A's various committees can be drawn only from club members, it effectively opens the doors for women to finally have a say in the running of the game.

Members will also be asked that in the event of a yes vote, they agree to "15 females" being given immediate membership, a list already drawn up featuring women who have made a significant contribution to golf.   Continued...

A St. Andrews souvenir golf ball is seen on a golf course in London June 11, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett