LONDON – The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland, home of the rule-setting organization for the sport outside the U.S. and Mexico, will allow female golfers after a vote of its members.
Eighty-five percent of its members voted for letting women in, the club said in an emailed statement Thursday.
“This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club,” club secretary Peter Dawson said. “The R&A has served the sport of golf well for 260 years and I am confident that the club will continue to do so in future with the support of all its members, both women and men.”
He added the club will be adding “a significant initial number of women to become members in the coming months.”
The change comes two years after Augusta National Golf Club in the U.S. let women in as members. Augusta National, which hosts the Masters Tournament in Georgia each April, invited former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a Rainwater Inc. financier, to join its ranks in 2012, ending a decade of controversy over its all-male membership.
The R&A’s membership policy came under scrutiny at Muirfield last year when the Gullane, Scotland-based club hosted the British Open. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond didn’t attend the event to protest Muirfield’s stance on female members. Royal Troon in Scotland and England’s Royal St. George’s are the other clubs among the nine in the Open rotation with all-male memberships.
The outcome of the ballot was announced on the same day as the Scottish referendum on independence from the U.K. was taking place. The club released the news on the evening of its annual meeting, always held the same night during a three-week members get-together under long-time rules.
Women’s groups and female golfers welcomed the vote.
Becky Brewerton, a Welsh golfer who twice played in the Solheim Cup, called the ballot “a significant gesture.”
“Obviously there is still that thing in golf about the separation of the men and women so obviously I think it’s a good step forward and probably about time that things started moving forward now,” Brewerton told reporters at the Tenerife Open de Espana Thursday. “There is a lot of history in institutions like that and it’s hard to get things changed.”
Although Trish Johnson, a winner of the Scottish Open, told reporters in Tenerife the vote was “not an important thing to me,” she went on to say that a possible rule change would be “a very important thing in general for women.”
According to the London-based Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, or WSFF, all-male golf clubs hurt the image of the sport.
The WSFF said in a press release Thursday that its research showed 62 percent of British adults disagreed that golf clubs should be able to operate a male-only membership policy, while 58 percent felt that the existence of male-only golf clubs made it less likely that women of all ages would play golf. And 57 percent of those questioned felt that all-male membership policies damaged the reputation of the sport.
“We hope that this evening’s vote returns an outcome which will help to secure the future of golf as a sport for both men and women in equal measure,” WSFF chief executive Ruth Holdaway said, before the results of the vote had come through. “With golf returning to the Olympics in 2016, this is the time for members of the R&A to seize the initiative and position golf at the forefront of sport reform.”
The R&A’s decision comes a year after the Royal Yacht Squadron on Britain’s Isle of Wight admitted women as members for the first time since it was founded almost two centuries ago. The men-only rule had been so strict that even Queen Elizabeth II, the club’s patron, was once refused entry by the main door.
In the U.K., women’s sports typically receive 0.4 percent of all sports sponsorship money — estimated at £1.59 billion ($2.6 billion) by World Sponsorship Monitor — and 7 percent of all sports media coverage, according to the WSFF.
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