Scotland Vote's Winner: Female Golfers
An historic vote just took place in Scotland, but not the one you're thinking of.
With the referendum for Scottish independence underway, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews has voted to admit female members for the first time in its 260-year history. The vote required a two-thirds majority among its 2,400 male members to pass, and received 85 percent approval from the three-quarters who participated.
Though the club no longer serves as golf's governing body, it still wields great influence in a sport steeped in tradition. The collective that now oversees the British Open -- known as R&A -- plucks several of its members from the club. The vote will not just put up to 15 women on the fast track to membership, it will likely have a domino effect on other British Open venues.
Three courses in the open rotation still have male-only membership policies: Muirfield, Royal St. George's and Royal Troon, which will host the tournament in 2016. (St. Andrews holds it next year.) According to The Guardian, Troon officials responded that they "have no plans to change our constitution at this time," noting that the club shares its facilities with an autonomous ladies-only club. But on the heels of Royal and Ancient's vote, Muirfield will meet to decide on amending its historically steadfast rules.
The clubs in golf's homeland are now catching up to Georgia's Augusta National. The host of the Masters integrated in 2012, admitting Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina businesswoman Darla Moore.
Several prominent women have been mentioned as potential Royal and Ancient members: 10-time major winner Annika Sorenstam; British golfing legend Lady Angela Bonallack; Judy Bell, the first female head of the United States Golf Association; and Carol Semple Thompson, one of the best amateur players ever. In addition, Louise Richardson, the first female president of the University of St. Andrews, was very vocal in her opposition to the club's discriminatory policy, given that her two male predecessors had been gifted honorary memberships.
Richardson's experience reinforces that golf's traditionally separatist treatment of the sexes isn't just about maintaining "a way of life" to which elite men had become accustomed, as Royal and Ancient's chief executive put it last year. There are tangible consequences of discrimination, from the limitations it places on the growth of professional women's golf to restricting professional women from conducting business and building relationships on the links. In this light, it's depressing that Ginni Rometty, chief executive officer of longtime Masters sponsor IBM, still hasn't been invited to join Augusta National, as her three male predecessors were.
It may turn out that golf, a sport with intentionally limited appeal, needs women more than women need it. Recent trends and the continued decline of the middle class could mean that the the sports future might rest with wealthy females. In the U.S. last year, a net of nearly 400,000 people left the sport: 650,000 men quit, while 260,000 women took it up. The state of golf is just as bleak in the U.K.
Golf will always be the game of the noble class, but in the soon-to-come post-Tiger Woods world, perhaps excluding half of the population's one-percenters isn't the smartest strategy for global growth.
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