The move could allow women access to the commercial and rule-making side of the club, which is the world governing body for golf outside the United States and Mexico.
The 2,500-member private club in St. Andrews, Scotland, will retain its all-male membership, R&A secretary Peter Dawson said Thursday. Founded in 1754, the club has never had a female member, and Dawson does not foresee one being accepted in the near future.
Changes are expected to take effect by the end of September.
''There is nothing in this announcement that pertains to the 2,500 members,'' Dawson said. ''And that won't change until members decide to change it.''
Dawson will continue to oversee the club, and the commercial and governing arms - and a new charitable foundation.
Dawson said ''good business practices and the need for a corporate structure'' made the changes necessary.
Vivien Saunders, a former British Open women's champion, welcomed the reorganization. Saunders has questioned the right of the R&A to impose its rules on nonmembers.
''I think it's a good thing because the governing body will now have to modernize and accept women,'' she said in a telephone interview. ''They are going to have to become a democratic and transparent organization.''
The male-only membership at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, was the subject of controversy earlier this year in the United States. Dawson said he has received few complaints about R&A's membership.
''We're not actually feeling any heat,'' Dawson said. ''If we can be criticized, it's for making rules for men and women when we don't have women members. The way is now open for more people from outside the R&A.''
Members of the R&A's dozen committees come only from the private club's membership. Some women are on committees in an advisory, nonvoting status. Dawson said it ''might be desirable'' to diversify the committees that govern the game.
R&A membership is secret and by invitation only. Candidates must be proposed and seconded by existing members. Dawson said the club looked for members ''with experience and credentials to serve the game of golf.''
Saunders said she had asked R&A captain John Whitmore to recommend her for membership. She complained about the R&A's membership policy in a recent letter to Prince Andrew, fourth in line to the British throne and a son of Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Andrew is a member of the R&A.
''I pointed out in the letter than under current rules his mother and sister would be barred from joining,'' Saunders said.
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