THE Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is to be congratulated on its proposal to end the club’s sexist discrimination against women.
Such a move is most welcome, albeit long overdue.
It is all the more important because this is no ordinary golf club. The Royal & Ancient is a governing body for the sport of golf. It sets the tone not just for its immaculately-manicured greens and well-stocked bars, but for the game of golf worldwide.
The result is that a form of discrimination unthinkable in, say, athletics or tennis, is hardwired into the organisation that sets the rules for one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative sports.
The time has come for a rewiring and yesterday’s announcement by club secretary Peter Dawson perfectly summed up the reasons why it is necessary. “Society’s changing, sport is changing, the rules are changing and I think it’s appropriate for the governing body to take this step,” he said.
Of course, the measure still has to be approved by the 2,400-strong, all-male Royal & Ancient membership. This may prove to be a significant obstacle. Stereotypes can be invidious, but the average Royal & Ancient member is perhaps not known for his liberal outlook and enthusiasm for progressive social change.
All the more reason for prominent members of the club – including the Duke of York, who was the club captain in 2003-4 – to lead by example and publicly back the change. This is no time to lurk in the shadows.
The eventual vote – which because of a quirk in the rules will take place on 18 September, the same day as Scotland’s independence referendum – will be watched carefully by men-only golf clubs elsewhere in Britain and abroad.
Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St George’s have cause to be concerned that a changing tide in what is acceptable in the world of golf could leave them stranded, with prestigious tournaments such as the Open being given to venues with less antediluvian attitudes to half the population.
We should acknowledge the role played by Alex Salmond in bringing us to this point. Despite being a keen golfer and a big fan of prestigious tournaments, the First Minister stayed away from the Open at all-male Muirfield last year, and made it known this was because of Muirfield’s discriminatory policy.
Mr Salmond was subsequently accused of opportunism (the Yes campaign for independence was struggling to attract the support of women at the time) and a lack of consistency (he had attended events at all-male clubs in the past without making his views known). But nevertheless, the snub from such a senior figure in the land seems to have been one of the key catalysts for the Royal & Ancient making moves to drag itself into the modern age.
Credit where it is due – Mr Salmond did golf and Scotland a service that day.
Flawed law at least well intentioned
Scottish Government ministers are most unlikely to accede to yesterday’s request from the Christian Institute to halt the implementation of a new law on the care of children.
Why should they? The measure – which would oblige the authorities to provide a “named person” to look after the interests of every Scottish child – has been voted through by Holyrood, and the institute’s threat of a judicial review is not reason enough for ministers to hold off on putting it into practice.
This newspaper is on record with its serious doubts about this legislation, which is poorly thought through and of questionable worth. The very fact that some of its main proponents, including major children’s charities, still have no idea of how it will work in practice tells its own story.
An admirable wish to protect vulnerable children has grown into a massive piece of social legislation that will generate mountains of paperwork for teachers, social workers and health professionals, with no clear idea of what practical benefits it will bestow on society.
Simple questions – such as, if a teacher is the named person, who is responsible in school holidays – are so far unanswered, even though the measure is now enshrined in law.
But for the Christian Institute to claim this amounts to a sinister attempt to wrestle responsibility for our children away from parents and instead invest this responsibility in the state, is far-fetched and bordering on the paranoid. Flawed as this measure is, it comes nowhere near being as dystopian a piece of legislation as this group makes out. Backers should find better things to do with their money.