The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is particularly proud and protective of their close royal connections.
Six members of the royal family have been captain, three Kings – Edward VII, Edward VIII and George VI – had the post before they were crowned. Many more have been conferred honorary membership.
Thus the situation regarding the Duke of York was a supremely awkward one for them. The R&A is much more than a golf club – it’s the governing body of the game for all territories bar the USA and Mexico, and a foundation of the sport’s traditions and history.
Prince Andrew’s decision to be the first royal to relinquish his honorary membership, conferred in 1992, will therefore be of some relief to the club.
The most active golfing royal
The irony is that the Duke was by some distance the most active and avid golfing royal member in the club’s 250-year history.
No other royal served on the R&A committees that govern the game as the Duke did from 2001 to 2003. He was a frequent presence at the many championships run by the R&A – almost a ubiquitous sight at the Open Championship every year – and always seen in club-branded rainsuit and cap.
He was captain of the club, significantly during their 250th anniversary year in 2003-4. The Prince led the succession of lavish celebrations the club conducted in St Andrews in the summer of 2004.
The Duke also promoted his own successful golfing event for young people, the Duke of York Young Champions Trophy. But the fallout from the Jeffrey Epstein connection led to that being wound up in April 2020.
Inevitable that golf’s close association with Prince would end
From then it was inevitable that his 24 patronages and associations with golf clubs and organisations would eventually end.
Andrew was also an honorary member at the three Royal clubs in Northern Ireland, Belfast, County Down and Portrush. But his association with the Royal and Ancient was easily the most prominent.
The careful wording of the R&A statement is of note. It appears that the Duke is voluntarily relinquishing his honorary membership.
It was a private association rather than an “official” duty. But there is little question that Buckingham Palace has had a significant role in this move.
The Prince’s grandfather, George VI, was captain in 1930 when he was Duke of York. Andrew’s father Prince Philip, who died last year, had been an honorary member of the R&A since 1948.
The Princess Royal remains an honorary member of the club. She was one of the first women given the honour after the R&A became a mixed-sex club in 2014, although she is not thought to be an active golfer.