HSBC: 'Very uneasy' with male-only Open venues

Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, poses for a portrait at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, poses for a portrait at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The R&A has consulted sponsors and stakeholders about taking the Open Championship to male-only clubs, according to Giles Morgan, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship and events.

An R&A spokesman confirmed the governing body established a consultation process after last year’s Open Championship.

“We promised a period of reflection immediately after last year’s championship, and this process is ongoing,” the spokesman said. “Naturally we have taken soundings within the game, and we will report the outcome of our deliberations in due course.”

HSBC is a long-term sponsor of the Open Championship, as well as this week’s $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, the WGC–HSBC Champions and other tournaments around the world.

Morgan has told the R&A that his company is uncomfortable being associated with the Open Championship being held at male-only clubs. The R&A stages the Open at nine venues, three of which do not admit women members: Royal St. George’s, Royal Troon and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers Muirfield.

“The R&A are clear that it's a very uneasy position for the bank,” Morgan said. “When you are showcasing one of the world's greatest tournaments, it would be much more palatable if the events were played where there was not the sense of segregation.

“We would like to see it get solved so we don't keep talking about it.”

Morgan said he has no problem with the R&A’s association with its member club, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.

“We are only involved in the tournament. We have no connection to the R&A as a club, and nor should we because it’s a private members club. But to the outside world, it looks like the same thing.”

Morgan said HSBC has held talks with the R&A about the issue, after the governing body started a consultation process following last year’s Open Championship at Muirfield.

The R&A came under greater scrutiny last year following Augusta National’s decision to admit women as members. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond stayed away from Muirfield along with members of the U.K. government, describing the club's membership policy as "indefensible in the 21st century.” Similar protests occur when the championship is staged at Royal St. George's and Royal Troon.

“I think things are moving,” Morgan said. “They are doing a lot of research. They’ve been asking a lot of sponsors and stakeholders, which they did over the last three or four months. They are acutely aware that things need to change and move on.”

Morgan pointed to the Olympics as a better example of pushing change rather than the Open Championship, even though the R&A funds golf throughout the world with the money earned from the game’s oldest championship.

“We all know that the thing about the Olympics, it's about men and women playing on the world stage, and to be part of the Olympic family there are certain stipulations that need to adhered to. The R&A is a fantastic vehicle for development for the sport at all levels. So it's not as if they have no interest in the growth of the game. The R&A are brilliant catalysts for the development of golf.”

However, Morgan feels the male-only issue needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

“This isn’t going away. Every single Open, this comes up. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m having to justify our sponsorship.

“We want it to be inclusive, and that’s why we spend money to be inclusive ourselves with golf. It’s why we have men’s and women’s champions (tournaments). It doesn’t sit right with us just to support the men’s game.”

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