St. Andrews Welcomes Women – And Their Money – To the Club

It only took 260 years, but the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, made a huge statement in the world of golf this fall with its historic vote to admit female members. The breakthrough came on the same day that Scots voted on whether to declare independence from the United Kingdom.  

My first reaction was elation, the same way I felt when Augusta National welcomed two women as members for the first time. I was thrilled by the bold move made by the club known as “the home of golf.” This is an exciting time for women in the sport.   

Then I thought, “It’s about time!”

Looking at the historic vote another way, it could be that some minds within this old boys’ club were looking beyond the question of gender equality to something more basic – a desire to beef up the old bottom line.  

As Alice Arnold, a golfer, wrote in her column in The Telegraph on Sept. 19, the day after the historic vote: “The golf industry is struggling. Golf clubs are often short of members and manufacturers of equipment are seeing their profits fall. Unless the sport embraces a wider constituency, the industry will fail.” 

Golf will be an Olympic sport in 2016. Rory McIlroy and other younger members of the PGA Tour have been outspoken in their support of equality, Arnold wrote. Tournament sponsors, including HSBC and other major banks, have made it clear that they don’t want to be associated with venues where players are segregated by gender. 

Yes, change does take time.  I am thrilled to be in an industry that is evolving. 

Peter Dawson, chief executive officer of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, made this statement in announcing that 85 percent of the club’s members had voted to admit women: “This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. I think it is a very positive message for the game of golf.”

Progress can take a quantum leap now that the home of golf has changed such a long-standing rule in a sport so bound by tradition.

Women have been fighting to be treated with respect and fairness on the golf links since the inception of the sport.  

Even as an LPGA professional who plays and understands the game well, I have felt uncomfortable walking into a clubhouse because of my gender. One time I had to walk around an entire building because I was not allowed walk through the Grill Room: It was for men only. My gut hurt. It was clear that I wasn’t welcome at the country club.  

Another time when I felt discrimination because of my gender was when I was invited to play golf on a Sunday at a private country club in Chicago.  Although we would have preferred a morning tee time, we had to wait until 11 a.m. because women couldn’t tee off before then on the weekends. Really? The three women in the group were better players than most of the men. 

It’s not only the rules of the country clubs that make women feel unwanted in the game of golf, but some of the male players make that all too clear as well. On vacation, I went to play golf with a fellow female professional. When we were warming up to play, the starter informed us that he was going to pair us up with the two men who had the tee time behind us. We happily agreed!  Then he said that the gentlemen did not want to be paired with us. Fortunately, two more guys came to play, and they were thrilled to be paired with us.  (OK, maybe it was just because they wanted to get the earlier tee time, but the fact that we were women didn’t matter.) When we went to the middle tees (from where most male amateurs play) and hit two great drives about 250 yards down the middle, it felt great!  Our playing partners were overjoyed!  The two men who declined to be paired up with us had this shocked look on their faces and then a bit of embarrassment as my fellow female professional said, “We’ll try not to hold you up!” Their reply: “Our bad!”  

But what if we were not professionals and didn’t hit the ball so impressively? So often when women 
are in that situation, they feel a great deal of pressure to hit an amazing tee shot. They don’t want the men rolling their eyes and wishing women weren’t on the golf course.  

As women become members at more of the world’s most elite country clubs, especially The Royal and Ancient Club and Augusta National, there will be fewer stories like the ones I have shared here. I am ecstatic about the decision of the R&A members in Scotland.  The entire golf industry will benefit.   

Cheers to a more positive future for women in golf! 
Be Positive – Live Positive – Golf Positive

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