Royal Burgess referendum on ladies was close call

ROYAL Burgess, the oldest golfing society in the world, has given its members until 14 December to decide whether or not a vote should be taken to admit women members.

Scotland's Carly Booth in action. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Scotland's Carly Booth in action. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The Scotsman has also learned that the decision to hold a referendum on the matter was only passed by five votes – 69-64 – at a meeting attended by just over 150 members of the Barnton club.

Following that meeting at the end of October, every member has been sent a notification of intent form by the club asking for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the “possible change to our rules to allow ladies admission to our Society”.

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It requires support from at least 50 per cent of those balloted for a possible change to the club’s rules to then come under consideration at the next AGM. There, it would need to receive a two-thirds majority for the men-only barriers to come down at a Society that was founded in 1735.

The Scotsman understands that an annual rates bill of £38,000 – the Society had its rates relief lifted by the City of Edinburgh Council in 1998 due to its single-sex status – has been brought to the attention of members in a letter sent out by the club.

It is also believed an ad hoc committee had previously “researched the subject of girls and ladies’ membership” on the back of a new mini section being approved at the 2012 AGM. But, although a referendum of all eligible members of the Society was recommended, the Council at the time decided that no further action should be taken.

Now back on the agenda, it has already led to at least one member threatening to resign if women are permitted membership, with another claiming at the meeting at the end of October that “ladies caused no end of issues”. In response to that claim, a prominent club member said he’d never experienced a situation whereby the ladies complained more than the gents. “It was always the other way round,” he declared.

While some members want the club to retain its status quo by remaining as a “male-only sanctuary”, others believe it is only a matter of time before legislation comes into force to ban single-sex clubs and want “steps to change to come from within”.

Unlike many clubs, Royal Burgess still has a waiting list for members, but concern has been expressed that might not be the case for too long if the membership criteria changed.