Dawson defiant over single-sex golf clubs24th April, 2013 by Emma Williams
The chief executive of The R&A has said that he will not bully Open venue golf clubs to accept women as members.
Peter Dawson added that it would be bad for the Open if it was to lose male-only clubs as hosts, that people like to socialise with other members of their own gender, that a women’s golf tournament will be held at a men-only club next year and that Augusta National’s historic decision to admit female members will have no significant impact on women’s golf.
However, he did accept that the the ‘temperature is changing’ and that Augusta’s move has sent out a ‘positive message’.
His comments come as two senior government ministers have criticised the governing body for British golf for continuing to award three men-only golf clubs Open status.
Muirfield, which will host the Open this year, Royal Troon, which will be the location for the championship in 2016 and Royal St George’s, the Open’s venue in 2011, all do not allow women to join their clubs.
Both sports minister Hugh Robertson and culture secretary Maria Miller have put pressure on The R&A to take men-only clubs off the Open location rota.
When asked if male-only clubs should be awarded the championship in the future, Robertson said: “No. It is increasingly anachronistic not to allow women to be members.
“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.”
Maria Miller added: “It is for sporting bodies to be responsible and think hard about where they stage events and how they stage them.
“Sporting bodies will be making sure they are holding events at places that understand the importance of having men and women involved in their sport.
“With golf being a growing sport that women want to participate in I really think that clubs that take the attitude of not allowing female members should be thinking long and hard about where they go in the future. If they want to be successful in the future they should be reaching out to women and really looking how they can involve them.”
However, Peter Dawson has said he will not dictate to clubs how they should behave.
“To think that The R&A might say to a club like Muirfield ‘you are not going to have the Open any more unless you change your policy’ is frankly a bullying position that we would never take,” he said.
“Our primary duty is to do what’s good for the Open Championship, and to kick venues like Royal St George’s, Muirfield and Royal Troon into touch would not be good for the Open Championship.
“Muirfield is a single-sex membership club but women do have access to the golf course either as guests of members or simply as visitors. Muirfield have been very helpful to women’s golf over time. I think the Curtis Cup has been there twice.
“This doesn’t seem to be an issue for some of the women’s organisations because next year the British Women’s Amateur is at Royal St George’s. There is nothing wrong under the UK legislation with a single-sex club as long as they behave under the Equality Act as far as guest access is concerned, which Muirfield certainly does.
“Muirfield has a huge history of the Open Championship. This will be the 16th time it has been played there. Who are we to say what they should do because they are behaving perfectly legally? We borrow Muirfield’s golf course for two or three weeks every 10 years. They allow us to stage the Open Championship at their golf course.
“Personally, I think this idea that it sends out a dreadful message to the world is considerably overblown. We don’t see it as our role to attack golf clubs which are behaving perfectly legally.”
This year’s Masters was, for the first time ever, held at a club that allows women as members, as Augusta National admitted two females, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, last year. However, according to Peter Dawson, this will not make significant difference to women’s golf in the USA.
“I do not deny the step Augusta made was a very positive one,” he said.
“In actuality, will it make much difference to women’s golf in America? I think probably not.
“Having a small number of women members, while it would send out a positive message, I don’t actually think it would change very much.
“There are times when men need to socialise with men, and women need to socialise with women. That actually reflects the majority opinion.
“The temperature’s changing, but I do think it’s entirely right that members of private clubs should be allowed to determine their own future, destiny. From The R&A’s perspective, if I thought it was materially affecting participation then The R&A would have an very different view because ultimately we’re here to do what’s good for golf.”
Responding to his comments, Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, said: “While it may be lawful for private members’ clubs to remain men-only, it is clearly damaging to the sport’s reputation that iconic clubs don’t allow female members.
“Not only is it ridiculously outdated, it sends out completely the wrong message to women and girls thinking about taking up the sport. A number of golfing bodies are working very hard to break down the traditional perceptions of the sport and encourage a new generation of female participants, and these clubs do nothing to help that cause.
“If the Augusta National Golf Club recognises the reputational damage that excluding women has, then it is time the members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield also joined the 21st century.
“This is more than an equality issue. At a time when the majority of women and girls do not do enough exercise to benefit their health, clubs and governing bodies should be doing all they can to encourage them to take up their sport, and outdated policies like these don’t help.”