2002: Perspective - The R&A and its merry bunch of men

Muirfield, Scotland

I have mixed emotions about the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, more commonly known as Muirfield, the venue for this year’s British Open. I feel the same about Royal St. George’s, Royal Troon and, yes, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

Muirfield will open its doors to the public for the July 18-21 Open, as golf fans flock to this venerable links on the east coast of Scotland. Then on July 22, it quietly will close its black, steel entrance gates and revert back to the dark ages of golf.

Muirfield, Royal St. George’s, Royal Troon and the R&A are among the last bastions of male chauvinism in golf. If you happen to be born of the wrong gender, you automatically are excluded from joining these eminent, men-only institutions.

Part of me wants to drag all four clubs kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The other part of me wants to congratulate them for standing up to political correctness, which hasn’t yet managed to swim its way completely across the Atlantic to the shores of Great Britain. Muirfield, Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon will be the sites of the next three British Opens, respectively, with hardly a murmur of disapproval in the United Kingdom.

I used to argue vehemently against such establishments. Having spent many summer evenings during my teen-age years trying to upstage my mother on the course, it seemed inconceivable that there actually were golf clubs that openly discriminated against half of the human race.

I have mellowed slightly since. Why shouldn’t a group of men – or women, for that matter, for there are all-female clubs in the British Isles – be allowed to form their own club? Who am I to tell them that they should accept female – or male – members?

In a democracy, people should have the right to associate with whomever they please.

Where the problem creeps in, though, is when such clubs are handed the crème de la crème of major championship golf. Even though Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St. George’s are three of the best links in the world, it’s not right to give one of the game’s showpiece events to clubs that openly practice sexual discrimination.

If they want to remain private, then let them do so and run themselves as they wish. But they shouldn’t be rewarded by being handed the British Open Championship.

And what of the R&A? This is a body with supreme power throughout the world of golf, a body that makes the rules by which men – and women – play the game.

“The R&A’s view is that there is room in golf for all different kinds of clubs,” said Peter Dawson, secretary of the R&A, when asked about the issue. “Where clubs have a mixed membership, then equal rights should apply, but we do believe in rights of assembly and feel there’s a place for all-male clubs and all-women clubs.

“I honestly don’t think social engineering is part of our role. We’re here to hold the Open Championship and will do it on the best links possible.”

I’m a big admirer of the R&A in general, and of Dawson in particular. I am in favor of his pragmatic approach and of the professionalism he has brought to the office of R&A secretary. He has had a steady hand at the wheel as he guides the R&A through the murky waters of the driver COR issue.

Dawson and the R&A have gone to enormous lengths to help develop the game all over the world. As a ruling body, the R&A provides strong and decisive leadership on a range of issues. Nevertheless, it can’t claim to be a modern, progressive organization able to guide golf in the 21st century if it still holds 19th century attitudes toward women golfers.

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