| Bunker Mentality
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