| Bunker Men­tal­ity

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wilson

It is bet­ter late than never to ad­dress the ques­tion of gender in gen­eral and equal­ity for women in golf.

The male-dom­i­nated golf es­tab­lish­ment, en­demic at all lev­els through­out the his­tory of the game has moved at a pedes­trian pace in re­la­tion to most mat­ters of gover­nance, rules changes, race, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, equip­ment and tech­nol­ogy. But over no sin­gle is­sue have the so-called, ‘Pow­ers that be,’ pro­cras­ti­nated longer and more grudg­ingly

than the ques­tion of gender in gen­eral and equal­ity for women in par­tic­u­lar. But, as Mike Wilson con­cedes, re­cent break­throughs are not only wel­come but also long over­due.

It is said that the only things in his­tory that have moved at a lesser pace than the game of golf ad­dress­ing change were con­cerned with mat­ters ge­o­log­i­cal, as the earth de­vel­oped from the ‘Big Bang,’ through var­i­ous stages of evo­lu­tion, in­clud­ing the Juras­sic, Tri­as­sic and Ice Ages epochs when di­nosaurs and woolly mam­moths roamed the planet.

Through­out the 250-plus-year his­tory of the Royal and Ancient Game, ad­min­is­tra­tors have stead­fastly avoided even a dull thud, never mind any big bangs, although some cyn­ics might ob­serve that some di­nosaurs are far from ex­tinct, tak­ing refuge in golf’s cor­ri­dors of power.

The near­est thing golf has come to a big bang came in 2014 - a decade af­ter the au­gust gov­ern­ing body cel­e­brated its 250th an­niver­sary - was the gnash­ing of teeth as the dul­cet tones of the-then R&A Sec­re­tary Peter Daw­son, the epit­ome of con­ser­va­tive, es­tab­lish­ment gover­nance made the mo­men­tous an­nounce­ment that, af­ter a se­cret bal­lot of its 2,400 all-male mem­ber­ship had voted to ad­mit women mem­bers to its in­ner sanc­tum.

“More than three-quar­ters of the club’s global mem­ber­ship took part in the bal­lot, with a de­ci­sive 85% vot­ing for women to be­come mem­bers,” said Daw­son, adding, “I can con­firm that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. An­drews is now a mixed­mem­ber­ship club.”

The sky did not fall in, hell did not freeze over, a few hand-picked ladies, in­clud­ing the Princess Royal and golf­ing aris­toc­racy Dame Laura Davies and An­nika Soren­stam, were, “in­vited to ap­ply,” although the club still re­fuses to di­vulge what per­cent­age of its mem­ber­ship are women.

And the hand­ful who have been in­ducted into the most ex­clu­sive golf club on earth still re­main out­siders in some re­gards, with no ladies chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties made avail­able within the hal­lowed por­tals of the iconic R&A club­house, forc­ing fe­males to change over the road in an­other R&A prop­erty.

Still, af­ter 263 years, that was a start, but, across the At­lantic, an­other sym­bol of

sport­ing misog­yny, Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club, the scene of such high drama at last month’s Masters beat the R&A to the gun; af­ter 80-years - the mere blink of an eye in golf’s time­line - of men-only mem­ber­ship was re­laxed as two high-pro­file women, for­mer US Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice and suc­cess­ful busi­ness­woman Darla Moore were, “In­vited to ap­ply.”

In­deed, to your Bunker Men­tal­ity columnist, this, like the R&A sup­pli­ca­tion, could be in­ter­preted as sex­ist-lite; surely women, es­pe­cially the rich and fa­mous who have joined these two em­i­nent in­sti­tu­tions are more than ca­pa­ble of mak­ing cog­ni­tive choices of their own, de­cid­ing they would like - and af­ford - to join be­fore fill­ing out and sub­mit­ting the re­quired ap­pli­ca­tion form and at­tend­ing the nec­es­sary in­ter­view to which male ap­pli­cants must ac­qui­esce to?

And, like the no­to­ri­ous Lon­don bus, when one has not come along for an eter­nity, sev­eral come along at the same time, but not with­out a few bumps in the road.

A ver­i­ta­ble out­pour­ing of af­fec­tion to­wards women golfers and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of gender equal­ity en­sued, with other male-only Open Cham­pi­onship clubs, Royal St Ge­orge’s and Royal Troon - just weeks be­fore host­ing last year’s epic Open Cham­pi­onship - voted to open their doors to the fairer sex.

It’s amaz­ing how the threat of ex­pul­sion from the Open ros­ter can shift opin­ion, change longheld be­liefs and re­verse prin­ci­ples, at a stroke.

But then, in May 2016, the quaintly - and para­dox­i­cally-named Honourable Com­pany of Ed­in­burgh Golfers at Muir­field voted for the sta­tus quo, namely to keep women out, un­less they were serv­ing food and drink to and clearingup af­ter the 600-plus grandiose male mem­bers and their male guests.

Ear­lier this year, a sec­ond vote was held, and, fol­low­ing much armtwist­ing and, cru­cially, their club be­ing stripped by the R&A of the op­por­tu­nity to host the Open Cham­pi­onship, said to be the pin­na­cle of a Muir­field mem­ber’s golf­ing ex­is­tence as the ‘Gentle­men,’ wel­come the finest, ‘Play­ers,’ in world golf.

Fol­low­ing the vote, which gained the nec­es­sary two-thirds ma­jor­ity re­quired for the mo­tion to ad­mit women to be car­ried, club is­sued what many con­sid­ered to be their ‘Get out of jail free card,’ say­ing, “The cur­rent wait­ing list for mem­ber­ship at Muir­field sug­gests that new can­di­dates for mem­ber­ship, women and men, can ex­pect to wait two to three years, or longer, to be­come a mem­ber of the club.”

In March this year, the Ka­sum­i­gaseki Golf Club near Tokyo, host venue for the golf com­pe­ti­tion at the 2020 Olympics bowed to pres­sure, mostly from the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC), the club’s all-male board vot­ing unan­i­mously for change af­ter 88-years.

So, if rap­tur­ous ap­plause for golf’s re­cent ap­petite for change would be over the top, and many still be­lieve the en­thu­si­as­tic em­brace the es­tab­lish­ment has given the women’s game to be lit­tle more than win­dow­dress­ing and box-tick­ing, at least it’s a start.

But one wor­ry­ing de­vel­op­ment, dressed up un­der the equal­ity agenda was the re­cent, ‘Merger,’ be­tween the R&A and the Ladies Golf Union, in which the LGA, own­ers of the Women’s British Open was sub­sumed into the labyrinthine bow­els of the R&A, los­ing its name, its dis­tinc­tive­ness and its iden­tity.

In com­par­i­son with the speed of change and golf’s abil­ity to keep pace with changes in so­ci­ety over its first 250 years, re­cent de­vel­op­ments and im­prove­ments have been pos­i­tively turbo-charged, and, with sen­si­ble, con­tem­po­rary lead­er­ship from the likes of Martin Slum­bers, who re­placed the an­ti­quated and out­dated Daw­son in Septem­ber 2015, golf can, in­deed must change and re­main rel­e­vant.

Con­doleezza Rice, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State and cur­rent Au­gusta Na­tional Mem­ber, and Billy Payne, Chair­man of Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club, are pic­tured to­gether dur­ing the Drive, Chip and Putt Cham­pi­onship

Ka­sum­i­gaseki Coun­try Club, a Ja­panese coun­try club at the sub­urb of Tokyo set to host the 2020 Olympics golf com­pe­ti­tion is con­sid­er­ing to change its pol­icy not to ad­mit women as full mem­bers af­ter Tokyo's fe­male gover­nor slammed the rule

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