R&A turns back clock in defending male-only clubs

R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson fields questions on the eve of the 2013 British Open.

R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson fields questions on the eve of the 2013 British Open.

GULLANE, Scotland – Gender discrimination in golf was front and center at the Open Championship during the R&A's news conference Wednesday afternoon at Muirfield.

The R&A knew it was coming, and chief executive Peter Dawson was prepared, but the answers still did not ring true.

The premise that discrimination in any way, shape or form is permissible flies in the face of most people's belief of common decency and morals in a 21st-century world.

But that’s not the premise that the R&A or Dawson took, and you could understand why. Not only do Royal St. George’s, Royal Troon and Muirfield not allow women members, but the R&A itself also does not allow female members.

“We've got, as you mentioned, politicians posturing, we've got interest groups attacking the R&A, attacking the Open and attacking Muirfield,” Dawson said during his defense of the R&A’s policies. “To be honest, our natural reaction is to resist these pressures, because we actually don't think they have very much substance.”

After numerous struggles for equality worldwide, it's clear that in certain golf clubs in the U.K. that discrimination is not only an accepted practice but one that is condoned by an organization and its chief executive. To what benefit?

Dawson said the Open, which is in its 142nd year, has not suffered by bringing the championship to male-only clubs. As long as the fans continue to come and the sponsors continue to participate, then it will be business as usual.

“To maximize the benefits which the Open brings, not just to golf, but also to the local area – and, by the way, in huge funding for women's golf. I think in the last 10 years we've put, as best I can estimate, looking at the figures, about 30 million pounds into women's golf,” Dawson said. “And that's what The Open Championship's success brings with it. So it's not all bad.”

The ends justify the means, apparently.

No moral outrage nor any suggestion that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Essentially, they're saying that if the R&A is putting money into women’s golf, then the women should be OK with things.

That’s 18th-century thinking in a 21st-century world.

Thankfully, even Dawson understood that certain discrimination is abhorrent.

“There's a massive difference between racial discrimination, anti-Semitism where sectors of society are downtrodden and treated very, very badly, indeed,” said Dawson, responding to a question about the similarities between racial and gender discrimination. “And to compare that with a men's golf club, I think, is frankly absurd. There's no comparison whatsoever.”

When is discrimination based upon sex abhorrent to the R&A, and at what point should it be taken as seriously at discrimination based upon race?

“I don't really think, to be honest, that a golf club, which has a policy of being a place where like-minded men or, indeed, like-minded women, go and want to play golf together and do their thing together ranks up against some of these other forms of discrimination,” Dawson said. “I really just don't think they're comparable, and I don't think they're damaging.”

The R&A is responsible for the Rules of Golf over the entire globe, excluding the U.S. and Mexico. What the R&A says and does influences the actions of golf clubs worldwide.

By opposing gender bias in Scotland, "The Home of Golf" would send a positive message to everyone under the R&A umbrella that discrimination is unacceptable.

If just one woman or girl were to receive access in places such as Burma, India, Paraguay, China or other countries influenced by the R&A, wouldn't it be worthwhile?

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