Royal and Ancient set to vote on women members

SOME of the world’s best female golfers look set to be among the first to join the male-only Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, breaking a near 300-year tradition.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, an all-male bastion since its founding 260 years ago, votes Thursday whether to admit women members. Picture: Getty

While millions of people in Scotland will vote on the political future of the country, the result of another historic vote is being revealed today.

The vote to finally allow women members has been taken by club members. They have also been asked if they would agree to 15 female members who have made a “significant contribution” to golf being admitted at once.

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Possible candidates include former USGA president Judy Bell, St Andrews University principal Louise Richardson and former top amateur player Carol Semple Thompson, while Dame Laura Davies – England’s most accomplished female golfer – is so keen to have a membership that she would “snap their hands off” if offered one.

More than 300 of the total 2,400 male membership will gather at the seaside course to be told the results of a ballot on whether to abandon the policy of having a men-only rule at a club which is recognised around the world as the “home of golf”. It is understood that the outcome is to be a Yes to sexual equality with senior figures within the club expected to back the plan.

A spokesman for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews said: “Over 2,400 ballot papers have been sent out and the vote is independently scrutinised by Electoral Reform Services. A simple majority is required to effect the proposed change. Should the outcome be in favour of welcoming women members, the decision will take immediate effect.

“The first women members in a mixed-membership Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews are likely to have made a significant contribution to the development of our sport.”

First Minister Alex Salmond criticised the club in 2009, after it became clear it would not maintain its long-held tradition of inviting principals of St Andrews University to become members because a woman, Ms Richardson, had been appointed to the post.

In 2012, former prime minister Gordon Brown called for the club to drop its “indefensible” discriminatory policy. This was swiftly followed by Augusta National – host of the Masters tournament – allowing women to join, with former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice becoming one of the first in the queue.

A Yes vote by the Royal and Ancient will leave Muirfield in East Lothian, Royal Troon in Ayrshire and Royal St George’s in Kent as the three remaining male-only clubs on the Open Championship rota.

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of golf’s ruling body the R&A, has previously said the issue of men-only policies at golf clubs was becoming “increasingly difficult”. He said: “Obviously, the whole issue of gender and single-sex clubs has been pretty much beaten to death recently. We do, I assure you, understand this is a divisive issue. It’s a subject we’re finding increasingly difficult, to be honest.”

Both Muirfield and Royal St George’s have already undertaken internal reviews of their membership rules.

Meanwhile, in a statement Royal Troon secretary David Brown said: “At present, membership of Royal Troon Golf Club is open only to those of the male gender and we have no plans to change our constitution at this time.”