Tait: British clubs not likely to follow Augusta

Will Augusta National’s decision to admit female members drag male-only clubs in the United Kingdom into the 21st century? One would think so, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happens later rather than sooner.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Muirfield, Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon, four of the most high-profile clubs in the British Isles, remain staunchly male only. All four will be under pressure to admit women now that Augusta has taken that step.

There are other male-only clubs on this side of the pond, but these four receive particular attention because of their involvement with the Open Championship. The Royal & Ancient is the members’ club attached to the R&A, the governing body for most of the world apart from the United States and Mexico, and which runs the Open Championship. The majority of men who serve on R&A committees are also members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. The other three form part of the Open Championship rotation.

Such clubs make it a policy never to discuss membership issues. Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A and secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, has issued the same reply to the question of female membership time and again. “I’ve been asked this question so often now that I really have nothing new to say,” goes Dawson’s stock response.

As chief executive of the R&A, he’s been under fire for many years for taking the Open Championship to male-only clubs. As if on cue, next year’s Open will be held at Muirfield.

Golfweek tried to reach Dawson for comment but was told he is away on business for the rest of the week. However, a spokesman gave a statement for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

”We read the announcement from Augusta National with great interest and we congratulate Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore on their membership. The Rules of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews specify a male membership, and this policy remains a matter for our members to determine.”

Ironically, the chances of women joining the aforementioned clubs might have been set back rather than improved by Augusta’s decision. As one long-standing Royal & Ancient member who did not wish to be named said, “I don’t think it will make any difference. I think the clubs will continue to do what they want. In fact, they might just dig their heels in and tell everyone to mind their own business.”

Traditions die hard in this part of the world, where the calendars in some clubhouses display the date as 1912 rather than 2012. Augusta’s decision might make these all-male clubs even more determined to hang on to their outdated traditions. Instead of enlightenment, we might just get intransigence.

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