THE Princess Royal is to become an honorary member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, five months after it decided to admit women.
Fourteen women, including Princess Anne, have accepted offers to join the world famous club after its vote last September to bring down the men-only barriers after 260 years.
They include Scottish amateur player Belle Robertson, as well as two former world No 1s, Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam.
Princess Anne follows three other members of the Royal family – the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of York and the Duke of Kent – in becoming an honorary R&A member.
However, her inclusion in the initial batch of women to be welcomed into the historic club may come as a surprise to some, given that she once described golf in an uncomplimentary manner.
“Golf seems to me to be an arduous way to go for a walk,” said the Scottish Rugby Union’s patron. “I’d prefer to take the dogs out.”
There also a touch of irony about Davies’s inclusion on a list of seven honorary members.
During the 2007 Women’s British Open at St Andrews, the English player took umbrage about the facilities being offered to players in the R&A clubhouse and declared she would rather “change my shoes in the car park”.
Now Davies, 51, has said that she is delighted to become an honorary member, especially as it has come on the back of her receiving a damehood last year, when she was also nominated for Golf’s Hall of Fame.
“It’s an incredible honour and I am so flattered,” she said today.
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“This is such an historic moment in golf’s history and I really appreciate that the R&A have invited me to be part of it.”
As two of the most successful players in the game, Davies and Sorenstam – the Swede won a record ten majors – were obvious choices, as was Robertson, a farmer’s daughter from Southend in Kintyre, who was Scottish Women’s champion seven times.
The three others to become honorary members are French legend Lally Segard, LPGA pioneer Louise Suggs and Renee Powell, an African-American who in 1979 became the first woman to be a head professional at a UK golf club.
“It is an honour and a privilege for the Royal & Ancient Golf Club to welcome these remarkable women as honorary members,” said R&A captain George Macgregor.
“They are extremely worthy additions to our roll of honorary members and will become ambassadors for the club as they have been for the sport of golf throughout their careers.”
The names of the ordinary members – seven as well – have not been revealed, though one is believed to be Diana Dunlop-Hebert, a past president of Golf Canada. Eight more ordinary memberships will be handed out to women in the next two-and-a-half years under the terms of last year’s vote.
“The process of bringing women into the club has begun in earnest and the ball is rolling,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.
“The normal members, if I can use that term, are from a wide geographic spread all across the world and all of them have a background either as players and/or administrators in the game.
“The honorary members have distinguished themselves in the game of golf as administrators or players, obviously with the exception of the Princess Royal, and we do have a history here at the R&A of inviting members of the Royal Family to be honorary members.”
He said all 14 women had been “thrilled to be asked” and were “quick to say yes”.