Well into the 21st century, those in charge at some of our most well-known golf establishments are stubbornly maintaining a less than glorious tradition, argues Neil Cameron
ROYAL St George’s on the Kent coast was once the venue for a round of golf between the world’s richest man, Auric Goldfinger, and James Bond.
In the novel and subsequent film, called simply Goldfinger, it was renamed Royal St Marks, but as author Ian Fleming was a club member it was obvious where this challenge over 18 holes took place.
Bond wins, of course but, in a bid to save face, 007’s nemesis gets his henchman Oddjob to chop off the head of a nearby statute by using his bowler hat as a lethal Frisbee.
Britain’s greatest secret agent was left in no doubt what would happen to him should he try again to put one over old Goldie.
You would imagine an unruffled Bond then taking himself off to the clubhouse, ordering a Vesper and then giving some lucky girl the eye and a suave line or two.
Except that would have been impossible, even for Sean Connery’s uber-cool Bond, because this was 1959 and women were not allowed in the clubhouse at Royal St George’s.
This was more than 50 years ago when attitudes were, of course, very different from today.
Except, that is, in golf.
Fast-forward to 2003 when the Open Championship was held at Royal St George’s for the 13th time. A sign stood in the car park that welcomed – or rather did not welcome – visitors to the clubhouse.
It read: “No dogs, no women.”
I am honestly not making this up.
The sign wasn’t there when the Open rolled back into St George’s last year, but the philosophy still very much existed. Women are not allowed to be members and, unless they are carrying a tray of drinks, cannot set a foot inside the main clubhouse.
Muirfield, on Scotland’s East Lothian coast, is one of the most beautiful venues in the sporting world.
The Open returns there next July for the first time since 2002 and it, too, is a male-only member’s club.
Imagine for a moment a sign which read: “No dogs, no blacks.”
Imagine Muirfield allowed everyone to join their gang apart from people with ginger hair.
These two golf clubs are brazen and shameless in their prejudice against 52% of the population.
This is apparently fine, according to the Royal and Ancient Club, who are the governors of the game outside of the USA.
The R&A, incidentally, does not have a single female among its 2,400 members and shows no sign of shifting.
Golf has gone through many changes over the years.
Alas, its attitude towards women, by and large, remains in the dark ages. Sports Minister Hugh Robertson and outgoing British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan have both weighed into this argument over the past few days, and not before time.
Robertson, in an interview with a Sunday newspaper, said: “It is increasingly anachronistic not to allow women to be members
“The defence of the Royal and Ancient is it is a private club and so has the right to do what it wants.
“That is legally correct and I have no quarrel when it is acting as a private club.
“However, I believe when a private club fulfils a public function, such as staging a major event, then there is a different slant.”
Asked whether clubs such as Muirfield should be awarded future Opens he, rather pointedly, said: “In all honesty, no.
“I think this issue should be addressed. Let’s get on with providing equality of opportunity across all sports.
“Let’s get real and let’s get on with providing equality of opportunity across sports, sports administration as well as sporting opportunity.”
Alastair Brown is secretary of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield.
If there is a more pompous title in sport then please let us know about it.
He said: “It’s not our decision where the Open is. It’s the decision of the R&A – it’s their competition and they ask us.
“We are fully compliant with the Equality Act and women have played here since 1891. I’ve given this reply several times and that is our stance.”
So they can play on the course – although not all of the time it must be said – but in the year 2012 are not allowed to become members of the actual golf club.
Muirfield will be the last golf club to change its discriminatory policy, if it ever does.
During the years when the Open Championship is held there, and much to the annoyance of their more fuddy-duddy members, the press (of both sexes) are allowed inside their baroque clubhouse for one week only.
One gentleman of a national newspaper was asked to leave by a member because he was “wearing denims.” I was a witness to this.
Imagine if it had been a woman wearing denims, the old boy would have had a heart attack.
Anyway, who uses the word denim these days? The R&A were put under more pressure about their all-male policy when Augusta National – venue for the Masters each April – announced three months ago that former American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore had accepted invitations to join.
The first women members in its history.
Moynihan told BBC Radio Five Live: “To me, the Royal and Ancient should change.
“It is remarkable Augusta has changed, but the Royal and Ancient is still there having not entitled and allowed complete equality of opportunity for women in this country.
“It should be an embedded characteristic of 21st century sport, especially when you see the contribution the athletes make.”
Apparently “less than half of 1%” of UK courses have an all-male policy, according to Peter Dawson, R&A chief executive.
It is just unfortunate two of these have been awarded a major within two years of one another.
Imagine if the US Open was held at an all-white course (these still exist in the red states).
Golf’s reputation would be destroyed, and rightly so. Yet, bar women from a clubhouse because of their sex and it brings them the biggest money-spinner in the game.
You may have noticed the BBC could do with good PR right now and they could add their voice to this argument, as the corporation hold the rights to the Open.
The BBC is, after all, a public broadcaster paid for by the licence fees from both sexes.
Muirfield doesn’t have a “No dogs, no women” sign, but it would be as well putting one up next year. Although in saying this, its attitude towards dogs is unknown.
The tournament is called The Open for a reason. There is a clue somewhere in the name if you look hard enough.