Augusta National deserves to be taken to task for its male-only membership policy. So do other male-only clubs that enjoy commercial success or wield power in golf despite discriminating against half the world’s population.
It seems incredulous that here we are in the 21st century and Augusta still doesn’t have female members. The world was rightly indignant 20 years ago when Augusta was found to have no black members. Yet we somehow turn a blind eye to Augusta’s steadfast chauvinism.
I don’t really have a problem with single-sex golf clubs per se. I don’t understand them and wouldn’t want to belong to one. However, if a group of women want to, say, form a darts league, or a photography club, or rock climbing club, or whatever, and want to associate with their own sex, they should be able to do so. And if they want to formalize that darts league and charge an annual subscription, draw up a constitution and perhaps buy a place where they can indulge in this pastime, then why should society tell them they must invite men to join?
So it follows that if a bunch of men want to buy a plot of land and form a golf club for men only, then who are we to tell them whom they can invite to join?
However, where I have a problem is when clubs like Augusta make money off the back of that sexist stance, or gain enormous power. Both apply to Augusta National.
We have clubs on this side of the pond that are still stuck in the early 1900s. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Muirfield, Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon are the most famous – or infamous – of the male-only clubs. The Royal and Ancient wields great power in the game because its members form the majority of the committees of the R&A, the body that governs golf throughout the world, with the exception of the United States and Mexico. It isn’t right that a male-only club influences what happens in a game for both sexes.
As for Muirfield, Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon, these clubs stage the game’s greatest tournament, the Open Championship. These clubs shouldn’t be “rewarded” for their sexist stance by being awarded the right to stage the Open, even if all three have outstanding golf courses. It also isn’t right that these clubs ban women most of the time yet welcome them for one week when they host the Open Championship.
I experienced two incidents in recent years that made me feel sad that the sport I love had not moved with the times. I was dismayed at Royal Troon in 2004 when two prominent female golf writers were told they couldn’t enter the Royal Troon clubhouse through the front door. They were ushered to a side door even though both were there to cover an Open Championship press conference.
Two years ago, I watched in incredulity as children, boys and girls, were given lessons on the Muirfield practice ground during the British Amateur Championship. Not only does Muirfield not admit women but, like the Royal & Ancient and Royal St. George’s, it has no junior members.
So here were children being encouraged to learn golf at a club where they weren’t allowed through the front door and half of them wouldn’t be able to join.
There are male-only and female-only clubs around the world that exist mainly for the enjoyment of members – Pine Valley and Western Gailes are two male examples, while the St. Rule and St. Regulus Clubs in St. Andrews are women-only clubs. There should be room in society for such clubs, even if it’s hard for the rest of us to understand why they can’t welcome the opposite sex.
As for the Augusta Nationals and Muirfields of this world, the clubs with huge influence and power that benefit from their association with major championships, they need to set a better example. Their sexist stance does the game no favors whatsoever.