Those who call the shots at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews woke up to a vastly different reality on Tuesday, the strangest of feelings for an organization that keeps time with a sundial.
To put it simply, the R&A is on the clock.
No one likes to be bullied into action, at the point of a bayonet or otherwise, but as the news slowly sunk in that Augusta National Golf Club had ended 80 years of all-male membership the judgmental glare of the collective now turns to the R&A, an all-male organization that holds its marquee event (British Open) at clubs that don’t allow female members, including venerable Muirfield which is slated to host next year’s championship.
“The fact that the (British) Open is at Muirfield is in no way damaging the championship or changing what Muirfield is. It’s just one of the finest courses we have. We have no apology about this and we are very honored to be here,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said . . . a decade ago.
If Augusta National’s pace of play on this issue has been too languid for some, the R&A’s take has drifted into Kevin Na-slow.
When Dawson was asked about the R&A’s decision to hold the game’s oldest championship at Muirfield in 2002 the Open rotation included regular stops at Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon. All three clubs continue to be part of the rota and continue to adhere to an all-male membership policy.
In fact, the only thing that seems to have changed in the decade since were minds at Augusta National, which opened its doors after 80 years to its first two women’s members this week, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore.
“It’s a matter for the members as to who gets into the club, and where that will go in the future we'll have to wait and see,” Dawson said in 2002, the last time the Open was played at Muirfield. “Society has always evolved, but it will do so at its pace.”
It seems the only thing that hasn’t changed is the R&A’s hardline position on the issue. An R&A spokesman issued a release late Monday regarding the news from Augusta National that was equal parts deferent and defiant.
“We read the announcement from Augusta National with great interest and we congratulate Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore on their membership,” the release stated. “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.”
Whatever it was that pushed Augusta National over the gender barrier it seems the R&A missed the memo. It was, after all, a journalist from the United Kingdom who earlier this year suggested Augusta National was sending a “mixed message” in its attempt to grow the game yet did not, at the time, allow female club members.
Imagine the mixed message a young woman will receive next year at Muirfield, the disconnect with an organization which governs golf everywhere in the world except the United States and Mexico and yet tacitly approves of such exclusionary practices.
Dawson has been quick to point out in the past that in the United Kingdom all-male, as well as all-female, clubs are the status quo. Fair enough, but as the game’s global rules-maker how does that message play in emerging golf markets like China and the Middle East?
For 51 weeks a year Augusta National is, by any measure, a private club and yet made its way to inclusiveness, albeit at its own pace and on its own terms. The R&A, however, is part of the public trust for all 52.
Decreased participation is a concern of every golf official, and yet the R&A – a standard bearer in the growth of the game – finds itself in the dubious position of trying to attract new players, many of whom are women, all the while supporting the notion that exclusivity is acceptable.
Earlier this season PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was asked his thoughts on Augusta National’s all-male membership and the circuit’s policy not to sanction events at club’s with exclusionary membership practices. His unapologetic take was that the Masters was “too important.”
The same now could be said of the Open Championship next year at Muirfield. Hundreds of years of tradition don’t go quietly, as they might say across the pond. It seems certain the R&A, like Augusta National, will get there eventually. Just don’t expect an organization that keeps time with a sundial to arrive at a similar conclusion any time soon.
Tags: European Tour
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