Having vowed to plough £80 million into the project over the next ten years and used one of London’s iconic landmarks to launch it, the R&A was certainly intent on making a statement with its “Women in Golf Charter”. And why not?
Aimed at increasing the number of females both playing and working in a male-dominated sport, the document, after all, is a massive development for the women’s game and could change the face of the sport forever.
By the end of that ten-year period, the R&A want to see golf clubs not only being more welcoming to women than many appear to be at the moment but also boasting memberships that are more reflective of the modern society.
To that end, there does indeed need to be a “fundamental change” in cultures in golf clubs and, if that doesn’t happen now with this opportunity having been offered to try and boost the numbers playing the game, then it never will.
“I see that the future development of our sport depends upon achieving a step change in the number of women working in all levels of golf and particularly the senior positions,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, at the launch of the charter at The Shard. “Clubs have a fundamental role to play in changing this culture.
“If we can change, there is a huge opportunity for golf, but we have to change and we have to change fast. Creating a product that families together want to experience from clubs will be the catalyst to take golf forward for the next 50 years. If we don’t change, then we will suffer the consequences. We have to encourage everyone involved in golf to play their part in this change.”
The launch of the charter comes in the wake of some historic clubs bringing down male-only barriers in recent years. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews opened its doors to women members for the first time in its 260-year history in 2014, since when Royal Troon, Royal St George’s and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers have all followed suit.
Two attempts were needed to get members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to give that proposal the green light at Muirfield after an initial “no” vote prompted the R&A to remove the East Lothian venue from the Open Championship rota.
Since succeeding Peter Dawson in September 2015, Slumbers has made no secret of his intention to try and make golf more inclusive, having seen the R&A and Ladies Golf Union merge in recent years, as well as the Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association.
He added: “We are asking the golf industry to recognise the real importance of increasing the number of women and girls playing golf and empowering more women to enjoy successful careers at all levels of the sport. The charter is a strong statement of intent from the golf industry that it has to change and a commitment on behalf of all of us to take measures designed to achieve positive change for women, girls and families. This is crucial to growing participation in the sport in the years ahead.
“We ask our affiliates and partners around the world to pledge their support and commitment to achieving this vision and to help us ensure that we have a thriving sport in 50 years’ time that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can enjoy. The R&A plans to increase our overall investment in women’s, girls’ and mixed golf to £80 million over the next ten years, a clear indication of our determination to develop the game in this area.”
How that money will actually be spent has still to be determined, but the R&A has already provided an initial three-year funding package of £375,000 to its affiliates in Scotland, Australia, England, Ireland and Wales to support the appointment of new development managers to work on increasing participation by women and girls. That role has been filled in Scotland by Carol Harvey, formerly a regional development manager with Netball Scotland, with Eleanor Cannon, the Scottish Golf chair, saying she’d like see a 15,000 increase in participation among women and juniors over the next three years. At the last count in Scotland, women made up just 12 per cent of the total club membership, which stood at just over 190,000 last year.
On a positive note, the home of golf does probably currently boast more women in prominent posts in the sport than most other countries. Shona Malcolm, the PGA in Scotland regional manager, is the first female to occupy a leading administration role outwith one of the women’s governing bodies while Cannon and June McEwan are the current chair and president respectively of Scottish Golf, the amateur game’s unified governing body. The Scotsman also understands that the R&A has just appointed a woman in one of its senior management posts.
The launch of the charter was welcomed by Tracey Crouch MP, Minister for Sport and Civil Society. “We are committed to creating an environment where women and girls can succeed at every level of sport,” she said. “Interest in women’s sports is at an all-time high, with increased global interest and record attendances. I welcome the R&A’s strong commitment to encourage more women into golf and nurture future generations of talent.”