Women could be allowed to join the all-male St Andrews Golf Club after officials said a ban of females would be “a retrograde step.”
Changes to the 168-year-old club’s constitution could be agreed at a meeting next month. The development is up for debate following publication of the Equality Act, which received royal assent last year.
While single-gender golf clubs can be exempted from the act, which aims to ensure equal rights for all citizens, current St Andrews Golf Club rules do not specifically outlaw women. In fact, the rules refer to gentlemen applying for full membership, youths applying for junior membership and boys applying for juvenile membership.
A letter to members of the club, which has its headquarters at Links House, states, “It may be that club rules would need to be made clearer and more robust.”
However, there are fears that an outright ban on women would be a step too far.
The letter states, “On the face of it the club has three options in order to comply with the legislation in terms of members and their guests.
“Firstly, it could operate as at present with members and their male guests being permitted to use the members’ lounge. This would result in no lady guests being permitted at all in the clubhouse, as all guests must be given the same rights of access under the act.
“The committee thinks that this would be a retrograde step ladies would be barred from areas of the clubhouse that they are presently permitted to access mixed social events would become a thing of the past and the dining room would suffer hugely.”
The second option would see the members’ lounge strictly used for members only.
The letter adds, “All guests would be excluded from the members’ lounge but all permitted access to the mixed areas of the clubhouse only. The committee is concerned that this would result in a loss of the special atmosphere of the members’ lounge, created by seeing guests being in awe of the club’s trophies and memorabilia collection.
“They feel that this could result in further significant reductions in turnover.”
The third option would involve changing the operation of the clubhouse to permit access to all public areas, both to members and their guests, irrespective of gender.
The letter states, “After much consideration and discussion, as well as a meeting with the past captains and trustees of the club to make them aware of the position, the committee of management is recommending that option three be adopted as the best way, in their opinion, of safeguarding the long-term wellbeing of St Andrews Golf Club.”
Members are being asked to give their opinions on the proposals and a special meeting will be held in the clubhouse on May 26 to discuss the change.
The club was founded in 1843 by local tradesmen. Originally called St Andrews Mechanics’ Golf Club, its name was changed eight years later.
Despite the potential for imminent change at that club, the situation at the world-famous R&A remains unclear.
When contacted by The Courier, a spokesman said, “The R&A does not discuss membership matters publicly but we are fully aware of the act and will act according to that.”
The R&A, seen as the custodian of golf globally, has never had a female member. In 2009 that caused something of a political storm, when First Minster Alex Salmond urged it to break more than 250 years of history by allowing women golfers to join.