Royal Burgess golf club may lift ban on women

ONE of the bastions of men-only golf has held an “informal meeting” to discuss the possibility of admitting women members.
Scots golfer Carly Booth has spoken out against men-only clubs. Picture: GettyScots golfer Carly Booth has spoken out against men-only clubs. Picture: Getty
Scots golfer Carly Booth has spoken out against men-only clubs. Picture: Getty

The meeting at Royal Burgess – the oldest golfing society in the world, having been founded in 1735 – “concluded little”, according to one member of the Edinburgh club.

However, The Scotsman understands that a motion to open its doors to women members is in the pipeline.

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To be successful, the Barnton club will need to receive 66 per cent support from its current male membership of about 800.

Graham Callander, the general manager at Royal Burgess, confirmed that the “informal meeting” had taken place recently but delivered a “no comment” to a request for an official statement on the matter. It is believed the meeting was attended by about 130 members, one of whom spoke to The Scotsman anonymously.

“It concluded little,” he said. “They have decided to have a sort of referendum, where members will vote on the motion.

“But change needs a 66 per cent vote in favour and, personally, I see little chance that this change would be supported.”

Royal Burgess is one of only ten royal golf clubs in Scotland. Its members include Hamish Grey, the chief executive of the Scottish Golf Union (SGU).

Grey’s decision to accept an invitation to join the club on the outskirts of Edinburgh two-and-half years ago sparked a sexism row, as it came in the middle of the SGU’s bid to push through an amalgamation with the Scottish Ladies Golf Association.

The Kiwi was branded a “hypocrite” and also described as “politically naive”, but was defended by Douglas Connon, SGU chairman at that time.

“I do not see that Hamish Grey’s membership of a single-sex club has any bearing on his position as chief executive of the SGU,” he said. “The Equality Act allows for men and women to be members of single-sex clubs.”

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Shona Malcolm, SLGA chairman at the time, also rejected claims that “a few ladies’ association members” wanted Grey to be sacked over the furore.

While that row is not understood to have had direct bearing on the amalgamation proposal, the merger is still being discussed between both parties for a second time after being rejected by the men’s area associations at an original vote more than two years ago.

If Royal Burgess opened its doors to women, the pressure is likely to be cranked up on the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to follow suit, after this year’s Open Championship at Muirfield took place against a backdrop of controversy due to its men-only policy.

First Minister Alex Salmond boycotted the event, while Prime Minister David Cameron was also stirred into making a rare comment on golf, saying such policies looked “more to the past than to the future”.

Peter Dawson, its chief executive, hinted then that the R&A would have something to announce on it using some men-only clubs on the rota for hosting the world’s oldest major but nothing has materialised so far.

“I did promise we would have more to say about the gender issue but not just yet,” he admitted recently.

Royal Burgess has dominated the men’s golf scene in Edinburgh in recent years, winning the city’s Summer League for a sixth successive season last month. Members include ex-Walker Cup player Scott Macdonald and 2000 Scottish Boys champion Stephen Buckley.

Scots golf pro Carly Booth, 21, has spoken out against men-only clubs, saying she hoped the “old-school tradition” would change. She added: “Lots of places have separate male and female clubhouses. I don’t see why. It just isn’t right.”