Of the club’s 2,400 global members who voted, 85 per cent were in favour of change.
“This is an important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club,” said chief executive Peter Dawson. “The R&A has served the sport of golf well for 260 years and I am confident that the club will continue to do so in future with the support of all its members, both women and men.”
The vote will take immediate effect, with Mr Dawson adding that a “significant” number of women would be “fast-tracked” to membership. The historic decision was warmly welcomed by a number of leading women players.
“This was certainly an easier result to predict than the other vote going on today,” said Catriona Matthew, Scotland’s No 1 female golfer. “It’s brilliant news and a great start to such an important day in Scotland.”
Championship golfer Dame Laura Davies added: “Back when I turned professional, I would never have imagined this could ever happen. I think it is a huge step forward for the R&A and women’s golf.”
Annika Sorenstam, a former world No 1, said: “This is a great day for golf and a historic one for women in golf.”
English teenager Charley Hull, one of the game’s rising stars, described the decision as “fantastic” and said it will help encourage more girls to take up golf.
Prior to this decision, women could play on the Old Course at St Andrews but could not join the club.
“I am pleased that the members have voted in favour of admitting women members,” said UK sports minister Helen Grant, who has challenged the three Open venues that currently have male-only membership – Muirfield, Royal St George’s and Royal Troon – to change their policies.
“I hope we will now see other golf clubs that still have outdated same-sex policies follow suit,” she added. “With golf in the next Olympics, there is a huge opportunity for the sport to grow and this sends out the right inclusive message.”
Rory McIlroy, the men’s world No 1, also welcomed the change. “It’s a pity that some clubs have been slow on the uptake,” said the Northern Irishman.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, black or white – everyone should have equal opportunities to do anything you want.”
Martin Dempster: Decision to be a mixed club long overdue
BETTER late than never. It may have taken 260 years, but the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has definitely done the right thing.
The moment it was announced a proposal to admit women members was going to be tabled, it seemed certain the vote would be “yes”.
That it received 85 per cent backing from the club’s 2,400 worldwide membership was proof that time had definitely come for change within its iconic clubhouse.
It is now a “mixed club”, the hugely-significant alteration to the historic club’s constitution having taken immediate effect.
Indeed, it is unlikely to be long before the first women members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club are mixing with their male counterparts.
This follows a second part of the proposal, a bid to “fast-track a significant initial number of women to become members in the coming months”.
When Augusta National opened its door to women members two years ago, the club that hosts the Masters each year admitted Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
It was a significant step, too, in changing golf’s face but some eyebrows were raised that the number was restricted to just two.
It is believed that as many as 15 could be part of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s “fast-tracking” process and that should be applauded. The identities will be revealed in due course but it is believed the group will include prominent figures in amateur golf.
The likes of former USGA president Judy Bell, for instance, and Carol Semple Thompson, a Curtis Cup stalwart. Also Scottish legend Belle Robertson.
This is a huge step forward for golf. The pressure is now on the three men-only clubs that stage the Open Championship – Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St George’s – to step up to the challenge.