Erikka Askeland: Time to rid golf of sexism

Preparations for the Open are underway at the all-male Muirfield club. Picture: Getty

Preparations for the Open are underway at the all-male Muirfield club. Picture: Getty

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I’M with Mark Twain in his view that golf is actually a good walk spoiled. It’s not that I haven’t tried playing the sport. I can understand how it might be possible to get a bit obsessed with hitting the little ball with a club so that it does exactly as you expect.

And the feeling of frustration when it doesn’t – more often than not, in my limited experience – is sheer hell.

But one thing I can’t understand is the existence in Scotland of male-only golf clubs. On Thursday the Open will start and one of the players get to hold aloft a claret jug if he wins. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. Because while Scotland is supposed to be the spiritual home of golf, it is the most sexist country in the world for women who want to play the sport.

Yes, in the world. Because while not just one but three prestigious golf clubs maintain a ban on female members in bonny Scotland, it seems pretty much unheard of anywhere else.

A friend recently challenged me on this claim – surely China and Afghanistan have worse records, he argued. Yet while neither country is a bastion of human rights and equality, both have more open attitudes to women who golf than Scotland’s top courses do.

China’s biggest golf club, Mission Hills in Shenzen, recently hosted the world ladies’ championship, bringing the women’s game to “new heights”, it proudly claimed. It has 11 courses designed by world-class players including on by Annika Sorenstam, the most successful female golfer in history. And while the members at Muirfield, the Royal and Ancient and Royal Troon might let the Swede play on their hallowed courses, they would bar her from darkening their doors let alone allow her to put her name to their lovingly tended greens.

I was doubtful that there would be much golf played in Afghanistan, but I was wrong. The bastion of extremism and fear of seeing women in public who aren’t covered head to toe in shrouds has been home to the Kabul Golf Club since 1911. Founded by moderniser and golf nut king Habibullah Khan, the club has declined drastically from its heyday, now being dubbed the most dangerous course to play in the world. Since the collapse of the ruling Taliban it has been cleared of landmines, but now has only five holes due to recently built roads imposing themselves through it. Yet, its website claims that women have been an important part of the club with ladies’ leagues playing on its sand and oil course since day one.

Really, Muirfield? The chaps who run the host of the open dub themselves the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers but I question how much honour they can claim to have. In comparison to the rest of the world they seem as honourable and relevant as dinosaurs.

To those who are reading this and losing their monocles while sputtering into their G&Ts, yes, I know the clubs are acting within the law and that the very definition of club is to exclude others. Yes there are female-only clubs in Scotland, but they don’t have the grandeur and resources that those at St Andrews, Troon and Gullane do.

Lots of excuses – mainly from men – have been proffered as to why this relic of a policy continues to hold in Scotland but not one is convincing, or just.

There’s no point in me boycotting Muirfield and the Open because I wasn’t planning on going anyway. But I heartily applaud those – including the First Minister (albeit not other members of the Scottish Government) – who will.

My friend, who allowed that I might have a point about Scotland’s sexist shame, said I should check out the Stephen Gallacher Foundation, which I did. Founded two years ago by the former Dunhill Links champion, it aims to encourage and develop junior golfers in the Lothian’s and Borders area – both boys and girls. Earlier this month the foundation backed the East of Scotland Girls championship hosted at Braehead Golf Club and all who competed should be proud. But the fact is they are still second class citizens in Scotland treated shabbily by the kings of the sport. It’s an insult to women, not just those who love golf, and it must stop.

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