Helen Martin: Make this ban Royal and Ancient history

Women's golf in Scotland is flourishing, but some clubs still adopt a men-only policy
Women's golf in Scotland is flourishing, but some clubs still adopt a men-only policy
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TO me, a game of golf is a good walk spoiled. I have no desire to have a go at pitch ‘n’ putt, let alone play Muirfield.

Yet I’m still puzzled – and find it quite laughable – that the Royal & Ancient in St Andrews and other clubs, including the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, don’t allow women members.

Several male members of my family are addicted to golf, including a three-year-old who even has his own miniature set of clubs. We’re not talking plastic toys in primary colours here – he has real clubs.

My husband is vice captain of an Edinburgh club or, perhaps, based on the time he spends with each of us, the golf club’s the wife and I’m 
relegated to mistress.

Each round takes about four hours, and when you both work that’s a chunk out of the weekend, let alone allowing for committee meetings. There aren’t many men who would happily put up with their wife disappearing every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. I tolerate it because it’s in his blood and I rather like the social side, the dinners and clapping at the presentations.

Besides, far from being misogynistic, his club is desperate to attract more women members. I feel perfectly at home there and I don’t even play.

In contrast, the chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, says he believes in equality but also believes “there are times when men want to socialise with men, and women want to socialise with women”. Does that require a golf club? Having women members doesn’t mean you have to share a round with them.

The excuse is that these are men-only private clubs with income, fees and subs paid exclusively by their male members, and under the Equality Act they are allowed to do what they like as long as they allow ladies “guest access”.

It’s all a bit Victorian. Men no longer hold the purse strings. Marital assets and income are joint and most women today, if they can, work and have their own careers, sometimes contributing the lion’s share to the household. So some women may already be paying all or part of the men-only membership fees for their husbands or partners.

These clubs host big tournaments such as The Open and receive broadcast-related payments from the BBC, which in turn is funded by public money and the licence fee. And many of the shareholders or directors of the companies taking hospitality and sales tents will be women.

Are Dawson and Co deluding themselves? It would all be quite amusing if it weren’t for the fact that Scottish golf, especially women’s golf and committed players such as former Women’s British Open champion Catriona Matthew and current Scottish Ladies Open champion Carly Booth, are the ones being short-changed. With dignity, and probably fearful of rocking the governing R&A boat, they don’t make a big fuss.

This is the home of golf. That doesn’t mean we have to preserve the game in 18th century aspic. The R&A should be taking the lead on equality, not embarrassing Scotland on the world stage with its anachronistic attitudes towards women.

Fancy a wager?

BOOKIES once gave 20-1 odds on Cardinal Keith O’Brien becoming Pope. Interesting to know what they would now give on him remaining a Cardinal.

Nice to hear it, to hear it, nice

SIR Bruce Forsyth has had a go at Britain’s Got Talent for putting children through the audition “ordeal” to the point where some of them start bawling.

I absolutely agree with his idea that there should be a separate Children Have Talent show. There is nothing more boring than yet another screaming, hysterical, pig-tailed, dance troupe/choir/whatever over-reacting to praise or criticism to the point where I get upset for want of some genuine, grown-up talent at peak time on a Saturday night.

Put the weans on their own Sunday afternoon show and give us peace.

Ageist issue is a real dilemma

THE number of over-50s in Scotland who have been on the dole for at least a year has trebled since the recession began. This is hardly surprising since most employers are ageist, have no desire to be shown up by staff more experienced than they are, and would rather “let go” someone with amassed service who costs more to employ.

Unfortunately, with the pension age increasing at the same time, and everyone expected to work longer, it’s a recipe for disaster and another benefits catastrophe in the making. When age discrimination laws went on the back burner, all this became not just predictable but a racing certainty.

Health bosses net own goal

THE new chairman of NHS Lothian, Brian Houston, above, has no background in health and lives in East Ayrshire. The job description said candidates must live or work in Lothian.

Apparently he passed muster because – wait for it – he’s a non-executive director with Hibs! It gets worse. Someone at Hibs revealed he could be found at Easter Road “most days”.

Perhaps he’s a genius, but did whoever appointed him spend even a second imagining how this would look to the public? Why didn’t they just go down the Job Centre and pick someone in a Hibs strip at random? It could hardly have produced a less reassuring result.