THE first female principal of Scotland’s most ancient university has accused some male members of one of the world’s most ancient golf clubs of “waving their ties in her face” to make the point that women are currently not allowed to join.
Dr Louise Richardson, appointed five years ago as principal of St Andrews University, said the present all-male membership rule at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club was “an anachronism” that had “upset” some of her female professors.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, will vote in September on whether to allow women to breach the gentleman-only bastion that is its HQ at the worldwide “Home of Golf” in St Andrews. The club’s committees are “strongly recommending” that members accept the rule change.
Dr Richardson has previously refused to comment on not being made an honorary member of the all-male club – both the two male principals who preceded her were offered honorary membership as a courtesy, soon after their arrival.
Dr Richardson, an American, in an interview with the New York Times, said she did not challenge the “anachronistic” policy of the R&A when she took up her post at St Andrews because she did not want it to become an issue. She said: “I, being kind of a professional and a pragmatist, said, ‘Oh we can work something out; this is silly’. But little did I know.”
Dr Richardson has played golf since she was a young girl, and the club’s all-male policy has made her job difficult.
She said: “The last thing I want to do is sound strident about this because on my list of concerns, it’s not high up there, and yet it’s tough when you think about it.
“Here’s St Andrews University, ranked third in the UK, we’re an organisation of 10,000 people, we support 9,000 jobs, I run this place very successfully and I’m not allowed in the clubhouse 600 yards from my house?”
There have been situations where the club and the university’s interests have involved her mixing with members at functions, which on occasion involved members “waving their ties in her face”, she said, “to draw my attention, as they think that’s funny”.
She added: “Once or twice, female professors have seen me in situations where I’m surrounded by men wearing their R&A ties, and they get really upset and offended for me.”
The difficulty of the relationship mostly manifests itself in Ms Richardson being unable to take university benefactors to the R&A clubhouse if they request it. She said: “If a supporter of the university wants to have lunch in the R&A clubhouse I have to get someone I know to take them when I should be cultivating that relationship.”
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s 250-year-old rule of not admitting women members will be subject to a vote at the business meeting of the club’s annual autumn meeting on 18 September.