Sports minister slams single-sex policy
Britain’s sports minister has become the most senior politician to say that single-sex golf clubs should not be allowed to host Open Championships.
The issue has intensified after Augusta National, the most famous single-sex golf club in the world, announced that it had invited two women to join for the first time in its 79-year history this summer. The club’s all-male policy came under intense scrutiny when it hosted the Masters this April.
Less than one per cent of British golf clubs are single-sex, but The R&A currently has three golf clubs on its Open venue rotation – Muirfield – The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which hosts the tournament next year, Royal St George’s, the host in 2011, and Royal Troon, which will be the location for the championship in 2016, which do not allow women to be members.
In recent weeks senior politicians have been increasingly critical of these clubs’ policies. Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said: “It’s completely wrong that Muirfield is still men-only. It’s old-fashioned and out of touch.”
Former prime minister Gordon Brown added: “If they can do it in South Carolina, can we not do it in Scotland? I think we have to think hard and long about issues of discrimination in our own country.”
Scottish sports minister Shona Robison then stated: “The direction of travel now is clearly to admit both men and women members and hopefully we will see an end to not allowing women to become members.”
And earlier this month Colin Moynihan, the former sports minister, said: “The Royal and Ancient should change. It is still there having not entitled and allowed complete equality of opportunity for women in this country.
“Let’s get real and let’s get on with the job of providing equality of opportunity across sports and sports’ administration.”
The minister for sport, Hugh Robertson, has now joined the calls for either the clubs to change – or for them to lose their right to host the Open.
“It is increasingly anachronistic not to allow women to be members,” he said.
“The defence of the Royal and Ancient is that it is a private club and so has the right to do what it wants.
“That is legally correct and I have no quarrel when it is acting as a private club. However, I believe that when a private club fulfils a public function, such as staging a major event, then there is a different slant.”
When asked if male-only clubs should be awarded the championship in the future, he said: “No. I think this issue should be addressed.”
Alastair Brown, secretary of Muirfield – The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, said: “It’s not our decision where the Open is. It’s the decision of the R&A – it’s their competition and they ask us.
“Augusta is a totally different situation. They own their event.
“We are fully compliant with the Equality Act and women have played here since 1891.”
The R&A is based at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, which also has a male-only membership policy. A spokesman said earlier this summer: “The rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews specify a male membership and this policy remains a matter for our members to determine.”