The R&A ‘likely to end men-only award’
The R&A, golf’s governing body throughout most of the world, has said it will make a decision on whether it will continue awarding the Open Championship to men-only golf clubs shortly.
The announcement comes as one of the tournament’s key sponsors has hinted it will pull out if the policy continues, which has led commentators to believe that it will be discontinued.
There are currently nine golf clubs on the Open rota and three of them, Royal St George’s, which hosted the championship in 2011, Muirfield, which hosted it last year, and Royal Troon, which will be the venue for the Open in 2016, do not allow women to be members.
The Open is the only golf major to be played outside of the USA and Augusta National, venue of The Masters, became the last American location that hosts a major that didn’t allow women to join to change its policy, when it invited two women to be members in 2012.
Since then, the issue has become much more prominent in the UK, with Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, boycotting the Open last year, and a number of senior politicians in Westminster calling for The R&A to change.
HSBC, one of the main sponsors of the Open, has now suggested that it will withdraw funding if hosting the Open is awarded to a single-sex club again.
Giles Morgan, head of sports sponsorship for HSBC, said: “When you are showcasing one of the world’s greatest tournaments it would be much more palatable if it was played where there was not the sense of segregation.
“‘We would like to see it solved so we don’t keep talking about it. I don’t want to be in a position where we have to justify our sponsorship.
“The R&A are very clear that we are uneasy; that it is an uneasy position for the bank. They are acutely aware that things need to change and move on. I think they will end up with the right answer.”
In response, an R&A spokesman has said that the authority is in a ‘period of reflection’ about what to do, and will report its decision shortly.
“We promised a period of reflection immediately after last year’s championship and this process is ongoing,” said the spokesman. “Naturally, we have taken soundings within the game and we will report the outcome of our deliberations in due course.”
Former Olympic athlete Susan Egelstaff, now a sports commentator for Herald Scotland, said the comments from HSBC mean it is now likely that Royal Troon will be the last men-only golf club to host the Open – and even it may change by 2016.
“In the lead-up to last year’s Open Championship, Peter Dawson, The R&A chief executive, said that it would take a ‘hard push’ to make them change their policy,” she said.
“If Dawson was waiting for a push, it could not have been more forceful had it been executed by Geoff Capes. HSBC’s stance has ensured that change will be forthcoming.
“The message to The R&A appears to be: change your policy or risk losing HSBC’s support.
“This would be catastrophic and Dawson will categorically not let that happen.
“The timescale will be interesting, though. The issue will have amplified tenfold by 2016 if it has not been resolved. Dawson is not stupid and will realise that a speedy resolution would benefit all parties, even if alacrity is not in the DNA of the organisation.
“The apparent reluctance of The R&A to acknowledge this is depressing and that it has taken the concerns of a significant sponsor to initiate action on the issue says little for their self-awareness.”
Egelstaff added that The R&A needs to change its image in order to make golf appear more welcoming.
“The trophy presentation party at Muirfield last year consisted of half-a-dozen white middle-aged, or older, men in blazers, epitomising almost every denunciation of the association,” she said.
“It was beyond parody. The parochialism of The R&A is, at times, quite astonishing.”