SHONA Malcolm, the recently-departed chief executive of the Ladies’ Golf Union, believes “external pressures” will lead to clubs such as Muirfield and Royal Troon following in the footsteps of the Royal & Ancient by admitting women members.
However, she also called for “common sense to prevail” if next year’s staging of the Open Championship at the second of those venues comes too early for change to have been implemented at the Ayrshire club.
Malcolm’s seven-year tenure at the St Andrews organisation ended last month. “I believe new directions and fresh perspectives are healthy and to be welcomed by both parties,” she said in a short statement on the LGU website.
Both in her LGU role and also during a stint as chairman of the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association, the Ayrshirewoman had become a well-kent face and certainly wasn’t afraid to offer an opinion on matters such as the R&A moving towards its decision to bring down the club’s 260-year-old male-only barrier last September, or a stuttering bid to create a unified body to run the Scottish amateur game.
Now expressing personal views, she hopes to see a “steady growth” of women members in the R&A rather than “token” memberships being handed out to “high-profile” women.
Malcolm also believes men-only clubs such as Muirfield and Royal Troon will need to follow suit if they want to continue hosting the Open Championship due to patrons such as HSBC being “uneasy” about the event being staged at such venues.
However, the experienced administrator reckons that change should not necessarily be rushed through and says she’ll be disappointed if Royal Troon comes under fire the way Muirfield did in 2013 due to the existence of Troon Ladies’ Golf Club, where women happily co-exist with their neighbours.
“I believe the R&A’s decision was the right one for golf, given its worldwide governance role, and I’m delighted the members supported the proposal,” Malcolm told The Scotsman. “I remain of the view that it is up to the members of a private members’ club to decide on who can join, but it is somewhat anachronistic that we still have single-gender clubs in the 21st century.
“That said, in Scotland we are capitalising on the benefits of 500 and more years of golfing history and tradition – without that we wouldn’t be the recognised home of golf – and there will always be some barriers to change. So well done to the R&A in knocking down a major barrier. How many ladies the R&A will admit is again up to the membership. My own preference would be to see a steady growth over a number of years, rather than just a token one or two high-profile ladies – which is realistically what has happened in the USA, albeit that got the monkey off the back of Augusta National!
“I suppose this year it may be in the R&A’s interests to make public at least when and how many ladies have become members but in future it really has to be their business. There’s no public announcement when a gentleman becomes a member of the R&A so, if we’re serious about equality and treating people the same, then why should it be different for the ladies?
“In my view, there’s no doubt that change will come in at least some of the single-gender clubs, both men’s and ladies’. However I firmly believe the members of these clubs should make such decisions in a manner and at the time that best suits them.
“There’s an oft-trotted out view that the clubs like Muirfield, Troon and Royal St George’s are somehow “different” because they host The Open – I don’t hold with that. I’d much prefer to see The Open played at the best, most challenging courses available, rather than get hung up on how these clubs are constituted. Having said that, I believe the external perception and pressures will lead to some change in due course. I have a degree of sympathy with Troon. With the associated ladies’ club of 350 or so members, Troon is very similar in structure to Royal Aberdeen and there was no negative publicity when the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open was played at that venue last year. Hopefully the same commonsense will prevail at Troon in 2016.”
Having been the SLGA chairman at the time, Malcolm was bitterly disappointed when, after the women had given it the green light, the SGU failed to receive sufficient support for an amalgamation bid in 2011. A fresh proposal is now being considered and Malcolm is “watching with interest”.
“I am pleased to see the progress to date on this latest attempt at amalgamation,” she said. “However, I believed we made good progress last time, too, with 94 per cent of the ladies’ voting members supporting the original proposal. Up until the last minute, we were being assured that the required majority of the SGU’s areas would also be in support.
“I would sincerely hope that Scottish golf has learned its lessons and does not find itself in the same position. If this proposal fails, I think you can put the whole idea to bed for a generation. We could also see SportScotland carry out its threat to withdraw funding. So I would be disappointed if it doesn’t go through this time, and will watch with interest.”
Women’s game ‘dying’
LADIES’ club golf is “dying on its feet”, according to Shona Malcolm, after losing 55,000 players in less than a decade.
The emergence of exciting teenage talent like Lydia Ko and Charley Hall has boosted the game at the elite amateur level and on the likes of the Ladies European Tour and LPGA Tour.
But, from a high of around 215,000 lady members in Great Britain & Ireland in 2005, the figure had dropped by over 25 per cent last year.
“That rate of attrition shows no sign of letting up,” warned Malcolm. “At club level, the game is dying on its feet – it’s in a bit of a mess. In my view, there’s no one reason for this but instead a cocktail of things that need to be addressed if the trend is to be reversed.
“Participation has been affected as an unintended consequence of the Equality Act, the ongoing “every-day sexism” prevalent in many mixed gender clubs, the age profile of lady golfers, the fact that young women are not coming into the sport, competition from other sports (tennis, cycling etc) and, perhaps one of the most important, the amount of time it takes to play 18 holes.
“I think everyone recognises the causes, but no-one has come up with an effective solution.”