Could use more women still.

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Royal, Ancient and Now Co-Ed

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, has admitted its first female members, five months after voting to allow women to roam its august halls.

The seven women who accepted invitations are Princess Anne, the queen's only daughter, and a group of accomplished golfers including Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies, Belle Robertson, Renee Powell, Louise Suggs and Lally Segard. Suggs and Powell are Americans; Suggs co-founded the LPGA and won 11 majors, while Powell was the second black player to compete on the LPGA Tour.

Noticeably absent from the admitted is Louise Richardson, the first female principal (chief executive) of St. Andrews University, whose vocal objection to the 260-year-ban was key in bringing the issue to the public. Richardson's male predecessors had been granted honorary memberships. 

It seems to be a glaring omission, though perhaps indicative of the slow march toward progress golf makes even after such bans are lifted. It's reminiscent of the fight to integrate Augusta National, the Georgia home of the Masters, which largely centered around IBM chief executive officer Virginia Rometty. Every CEO of the company before her had been given membership, and as with Richardson, Rometty's exclusion highlighted the inequity of the ban on women. Yet when Augusta voted to admit women in 2012, it invited Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, leaving out Rometty. It wasn't until last November that she was admitted as the club's third female member.

The hesitance to let in Rometty was seen by some as an attempt to save face, so an old-boys club steeped in tradition wouldn't have to admit to caving to one woman's pressure. Perhaps the old boys at Royal and Ancient are going through the same motions with Richardson, and could admit her with the next round of women. When the club lifted the ban, it authorized its committee to fast-track up to 15 women for membership over the next three years, so we can expect to see eight more in the next 30 months or so. That seems like small potatoes in a club that boasts 2,400 male members.

Small victories are better than none, and give us hope for future change. When Royal and Ancient decided to put the issue to a vote, four of the clubs in the Open Championship rotation still had male-only policies. Muirfield and Royal St. George soon announced they would review their membership rules as well. But as the Telegraph's James Corrigan writes, neither of those clubs will host the tournament in the near future, so they have the luxury of stalling for a few years. The pressure's on Royal Troon, host of the tournament next year, which last month announced it would “shortly undertake a comprehensive review to consider the most appropriate membership policy for the future."

When that happens, it will be a huge step toward removing overt gender discrimination from the hosts of golf's major championships. And as I've noted before, that might actually be better news for golf itself than for the women who want to play.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net