Martin Dempster: Golf well placed for gender unity

Stacy Lewis at the Women's British Open in 2013 at St Andrews, at the time a men-only club. Picture: Getty
Stacy Lewis at the Women's British Open in 2013 at St Andrews, at the time a men-only club. Picture: Getty
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THEY are located within a wedge of each other in St Andrews and are responsible for and involved in matching matters in men’s and women’s golf.

It, therefore, makes sense that the R&A and the Ladies’ Golf Union have entered “exploratory discussions” about how they might start singing from the same hymn sheet.

It could be that the two organisations establish “a more closely coordinated working relationship”. It could be a case of them going the whole hog and “merging”.

Whatever comes out of these discussions has to be welcomed because it is another step in the right direction for golf as far as the gender issue is concerned.

This latest news, of course, has come in the wake of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews bringing down its male-only barriers after 260 years. Fourteen women have just been granted membership of the historic club, with more to come following last September’s “yes” vote.

It has heaped pressure on other men-only clubs to follow suit, with the three on the Open Championship rota – Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St George’s – currently undergoing a membership review.

Only time will tell if Royal Troon can make a change before it hosts next year’s Open there. But, if not, a significant step has already been taken to avoid the Ayrshire club being hit with the same storm of protest we saw at Muirfield in 2013.

For the first time in the event’s history, a joint-championship committee has been set up involving Royal Troon and its near neighbour, Troon Ladies, with representatives from each working together in conjunction with the R&A.

Times, indeed, are changing in golf and it makes complete sense for the R&A and the LGU to be exploring the possibility of their organisations coming under the one umbrella.

In addition to The Open, its flagship event, the R&A runs events like the Amateur Championship, Boys’ Championship and, when its played on this side of the Atlantic, the Walker Cup.

For the LGU, it’s almost a mirror image with the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship, Girls’ British Open Amateur Championship and the Curtis Cup.

Of the two, the R&A has by far the greater resources, both in terms of the revenue at its disposal and staff numbers. In comparison, the LGU is a small-scale operation, but, while once ridiculed in certain quarters, it has raised its game considerably in recent years under the stewardship of Susan Simpson, the head of golf operations.

Working as one, the two organisations can use their expertise to try and tackle the game’s participation issue, with the R&A having vowed to direct money towards that from the increased pot it is about to receive from Sky Sports when the Open Championship moves to the satellite station from the BBC in 2017.

Almost under the radar, the LGU has also signed a five-year deal with Sky Sports for the Women’s British Open starting at the same time, which should have perhaps been a sign that a possible merger was in the pipeline.

Should there be any opposition to such a move? None at all. In fact, if proposed, it should go through without a peep.

That, of course, wasn’t the case when the Scottish Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association tried to amalgamate four years ago, the men voting it down on that occasion. Thankfully, however, it looks as though it will go through at the second-time of asking – the women having already offered their unanimous backing with the men edging towards a similar vote at an egm to be held in Stirling at the end of next month.

In England, where the national body is already unified, the next phase is under way. Just this week, the golfers of Northamptonshire have become the first in the country to vote to merge their ladies’ and men’s county organisations.

In time, we can surely expect the same thing to be happening around Scotland, though issues like boundaries need to be addressed first. For instance, Dunblane is in Perth & Kinross in the SLGA eyes but, for the SGU, it’s a Stirlingshire club.

One day – and maybe not too far into the future – all golf organisations will be mixed-gender bodies and rightly so in this day and age.

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