Martin Dempster: Male chauvinism threat to Open at Troon

Todd Hamilton won the Claret Jug when the Open was last staged at Royal Troon, in 2004. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
Todd Hamilton won the Claret Jug when the Open was last staged at Royal Troon, in 2004. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
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A n admission by Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, that it is “highly unlikely” Royal Troon will be a mixed gender club in time for its staging of the 145th Open Championship in July demands explanation, and the sooner the better.

It was the Ayrshire club itself, after all, that used the word “shortly” in the press release issued on 27 January last year to announce it was to embark on a “comprehensive review” of membership policy and there was no disguising, surely, what that meant.

With nearly 18 months to work with, the aim had to have been for the men-only policy to be lifted before the club staged the R&A’s marquee event for the first time since 2004, when Todd Hamilton became the sixth American in a row to triumph at Troon.

That Slumbers seems to think that it isn’t going to happen, even with just under five months on the countdown clock, can only mean that whatever recommendations presented to the membership following the review have not yet received sufficient support.

In short, there is an element of the membership that want it to remain men-only, despite the lead having been taken by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews when it voted in favour of admitting women, and Royal St George’s subsequently following suit.

Slumbers was being diplomatic when he said that Royal Troon deserved “respect and the freedom to consult with their members as they wish”. Privately, though, he’d surely rather be overseeing his first Open Championship since taking up the reins from Peter Dawson without this thorny issue hanging over the event.

Here’s something for the Royal Troon members to consider in the hope that whatever or whoever is stalling the process has a change of heart in order for the club to become mixed gender before the world’s top players converge in the middle of July. The 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield may have ended in fairytale fashion as Phil Mickelson produced one of the best back nines in the history of the great event to get his hands on the Claret Jug for the first time, but it was a tournament that took place against an awkward backdrop due to its men-only policy.

The R&A’s traditional press conference on the eve of the tournament was, without doubt, the most uncomfortable of Peter Dawson’s 16-year reign and Slumbers better be prepared for a taste of the same medicine. Indeed, he might be in for an even rougher ride if the event is, in fact, the first Open Championship to be staged at a men-only club since the R&A became all encompassing, the latest phase of which is the newly-announced merger with the LGU.

What makes it more disappointing about the unlikelihood of any change now taking place before what will be the ninth Claret Jug joust at Royal Troon is the fact it is going to overshadow this event being the first in the 155-year history of the Open Championship being run jointly by mixed-gender committee.

While Slumbers said he was “delighted” at how it was working, it would be even better if the involvement of Troon Ladies alongside their male counterparts along the road was marked with the welcome mat being rolled out for them at Royal Troon before the week when the town will be showcased around the world.

Purely from a golfing perspective, there is genuine excitement starting to build, partly generated by the unusual prospect of so many of the game’s current top players, including the top-ranked trio of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, never having played Royal Troon before.

It will be a real thrill when they step on to the tee at the Postage Stamp for the first time and take on one of the game’s iconic challenges. They’ll face one of the most daunting tasks in the sport three holes later trying to find a fairway at the 11th that is flanked on one side by the railway line and a wall of gorse on the other. They’ll be faced, in the words of Ernie Els, with “some of the most difficult links golf you’ll ever play” on that back nine.

All the ingredients are there for something really special, yet male chauvinism will cast a dark shadow over proceedings unless sense prevails and the perfect opportunity for Royal Troon to join the modern world is grasped.

Mickelson reminds us of Tiger’s greatest feats

It’s with real sincerity that I hope a fellow journalist is wrong in predicting that there is no “foreseeable return” for Tiger Woods but, as we wait and wonder about his future, well done to Phil Mickelson for reminding us just how good the man was before injuries kicked in.

“There is nobody in the game that I have seen that is remotely close to the level of performance Tiger was in his prime,” Mickelson told GOLF LIVE. “Mentally, short game, or ball striking, I don’t think anybody matches him in any of those areas. And Tiger put them all together in one to create a career that is mind-boggling in the game of golf.”

He didn’t stop there, either. “As great as the young players are, the level that I’ve seen out of him, especially when you go back to 2000 at the US Open and his performance when he held all four major championships at once, I think we’re decades away from anybody getting back to that level,” added Lefty.

Which makes it sad that we are having to live off Tiger memories these days and his agent is having to dismiss claims that the 14-time major winner has suffered a serious setback in the recovery from his latest back injury.

“The tweets (one claimed Woods can only sit in a car with the seat fully reclined) that appeared this weekend about Tiger’s health are ridiculous and absolutely false,” said Mark Steinberg in a statement.

“It’s reprehensible that every few months someone makes something up and it’s treated like a real story. Tiger continues to work on his rehabilitation and we will have an accurate update at the appropriate time.”