Royal & Ancient Golf Club to vote on female members

At the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, Lorena Ochoa plays the Old Course during her 2007 Women's British Open win.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The Royal & Ancient Golf Club is set to break with centuries of tradition and allow female members, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson announced today.

Club members will vote on whether to allow women to join during their annual business meeting Sept. 18.

“I’m delighted that our general committee, supported by all our other committees, are recommending to club members that we welcome women to be members of the club in future,” Dawson said.

For the motion to pass, two thirds of the membership must vote to accept women as members.

“There will now be a period of dialogue with members that will be taking place in the coming months prior to the vote in September,” Dawson said

Dawson said the issue has been on the agenda of every biennial strategy meeting since 1999, when he became chief executive of the R&A, which governs the game throughout the world, except in the U.S. and Mexico. He expects the members to approve the initiative.

“We wouldn’t be entering this process if we didn’t feel members were in favor.”

Should the members approve the admission of females, Dawson did not disclose when the first women might become part of the club.

“We have to go through due process for this to stick and to be constitutional within the R&A,” he said.

Nor did he say how many women might be admitted in the first intake. The R&A normally accepts 30-50 new members a year.

Dawson and the R&A took a lot of heat during last year’s Open Championship at all-male Muirfield. Earlier this year, Giles Morgan, the marketing chief for HSBC, said he wasn’t comfortable sponsoring the Open Championship when it was taken to single-gender clubs. However, Dawson said the decision is not a reaction to the Muirfield Open.

“It is actually our governance role that has been the driving factor in making this happen. We are a governing body for the rules of the game. Society’s changing, sport is changing, golf is changing, or has changed, and I think it is appropriate for a governing body to take this step.”

Dawson said the policy toward the Open Championship would not change in the short term. Besides The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, the R&A's rotation for the Open Championship includes all-male clubs Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon. Many will now expect the R&A to pressure those clubs to change their membership policies and allow women, too.

“I have nothing to announce on Open-venue policy,” Dawson said. “The start of talking about this pre-dates Muirfield.

“We are not intending to place other golf clubs under any pressure by doing this. As long as clubs are behaving legally and they are the best clubs for the Open Championship, I think we have to put the needs of the Open very high up our list of priorities. To lose a number of key venues wouldn’t seem to be doing that.”

Only those who attend the business meeting during the club’s autumn medal will be allowed to vote. There will be no postal or proxy votes. Normally about 300 or so turn up for the business meeting, but Dawson expects that number to swell this year.

“I think for an issue like this we will have a more heavily populated business meeting,” he said.

The Royal & Ancient goes through a traditional process of proposing and seconding prospective members, which can be laborious. That process may change if there is a "yes" vote.

“The traditional procedure does take some time. The general committee will be looking at ways of accelerating that process to get this off the ground, but that’s one of the things that have to be discussed. But we’re looking to make this meaningful, and over time we’re not talking about putting any limit on the number of women members. It will be a matter for the number that get proposed and seconded.”

The R&A has been in existence since 1754, during which time it has been an all-male enclave. All that seems certain to change this September.

Coincidentally, the vote occurs on the same day that Scotland votes for independence. Women the world over will be hoping for at least one “yes” vote in Scotland that day.

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