Sponsors Welcome St. Andrews Vote to Allow Female Golfers

Sponsors and women golfers, including four-time major champion Laura Davies of Britain, welcomed a move by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland to allow female members.

More than three-quarters of the global membership of the club known as “the home of golf” took part in the ballot, with 85 percent voting for women to become members, the club said yesterday. Augusta National, which hosts the Masters Tournament in Georgia each April, invited former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, a Rainwater Inc. financier, to join its ranks in 2012, ending a decade of controversy over its all-male membership.

“It is great news -– back when I turned pro I would never have imagined that this could ever happen,” Davies, 50, said in a statement e-mailed by the Ladies European Tour. “It is a huge step forward for the R&A and women’s golf and everyone will be delighted with the result.”

The R&A’s membership policy had come under scrutiny at Muirfield last year when the Scottish club hosted the British Open. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond didn’t attend the event to protest Muirfield’s stance on female members. Royal Troon in Scotland and England’s Royal St. George’s are the other clubs among the nine in the Open rotation with all-male memberships.

The outcome of the ballot was announced the same day that voting was held on the Scottish referendum of independence from the U.K. The club released the news on the evening of its annual meeting, always held the same night during a three-week members get-together.

Positive Day

“This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club,” club secretary Peter Dawson said. “The R&A has served the sport of golf well for 260 years and I am confident that the club will continue to do so in future with the support of all its members, both women and men.”

The club will be adding “a significant initial number of women to become members in the coming months,” Dawson said.

“As a partner of the R&A and a long-term international sponsor of golf, we welcome this news with open arms,” Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship at HSBC Holdings Plc, said in an e-mailed statement.

“HSBC is committed to growing the game at all levels and fundamental to this is our commitment to the value of diversity and our support of women’s golf which is a cornerstone of our global golf portfolio,” he added.

Modernizing Golf

Golfers said the sport must move with the times to keep younger players interested.

“Golf needs to get a bit more modern and we can’t be doing with single-sex golf clubs in this day and age, especially not ones where majors are held,” English women’s golfer Charley Hull said.

According to the London-based Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, or WSFF, all-male golf clubs hurt the image of the sport.

The WSFF said in a news release yesterday that its research showed 62 percent of British adults disagreed that golf clubs should be able to operate a male-only membership policy, while 58 percent felt that the existence of male-only golf clubs made it less likely that women of all ages would play golf. And 57 percent of those questioned felt that all-male membership policies damaged the sport’s reputation.

Equal Access

“We hope that this evening’s vote returns an outcome which will help to secure the future of golf as a sport for both men and women in equal measure,” WSFF chief executive Ruth Holdaway said, before the results of the vote were released. “With golf returning to the Olympics in 2016, this is the time for members of the R&A to seize the initiative and position golf at the forefront of sport reform.”

The R&A’s decision comes a year after the Royal Yacht Squadron on Britain’s Isle of Wight admitted women as members for the first time since it was founded almost two centuries ago.

In the U.K., women’s sports typically receive 0.4 percent of all sports sponsorship money -- estimated at 1.59 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) by World Sponsorship Monitor -- and 7 percent of all sports media coverage, according to the WSFF.

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