Royal Troon is no closer to making a decision on becoming a mixed club with no verdict expected before this summer’s Open Championship at the Ayrshire venue, admitted R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.
On the day that the R&A officially announced the procedure on to merge with the Ladies Golfing Union (LGU) to form one unified body for the sport which will eventually be known as the R&A Slumbers said it was “highly unlikely” that Royal Troon, one of only two remaining all-male clubs that host the Open, would vote to include women members by mid-July.
This is despite the club launching the consultation process over a year ago, when it announced that it was “co-hosting” the 2016 Open with Troon Ladies’, the all-female club that has restricted use to the “Old Course” that hosts the Open.
As it did with its own sister organisation the Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews before it voted overwhelmingly to become a mixed club 18 months ago, and also with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, the R&A will not stridently demand change, said Slumbers.
“We are delighted with the way the joint arrangement is working between Royal Troon and Troon Ladies, and we start building for the Open in the next few weeks,” he said.
“Royal Troon are undertaking a process to change their membership and it’s well underway. It’s my view that we should give them the respect and freedom to decide as they wish. That takes time, and when they have done so we will listen to what that decision is.”
The R&A and Royal Troon are risking a media firestorm of the sort that blew up at Muirfield in 2013 when the Open returned there when no move had been made to turn the oldest club in golf from being exclusively all-male.
Royal Troon had originally claimed that they were a “special case” as Troon Ladies already existed, but pressure continued on them and they announced a membership survey last year.
Royal St George’s at Sandwich, another club in the pool of venues used by the R&A for the Open, changed it membership policy to become a mixed club last year.
The change of membership at the Royal and Ancient paved the way for yesterday’s announcement, and a move that had been in discussion for many years, continued Slumbers.
“It’s always been the intention to merge,” said Slumbers, who added that there had been complex negotiations about the nuts and bolts of the amalgamation.
Although the merged organisation will be known as the R&A in the future once it is completed, they were confident that the LGU would not be submerged within the much larger men’s organisation.
“Whenever you look at any amalgamation it’s important that one organisation is not submerged,” added Slumbers.
“You look at the right representation from each body and the right people for the individual parts of governing the game.
“A lot of the discussion we’ve had with the LGU surrounds their involvement in the committee structure at the R&A (which oversees the governance of the game). I think we’re fairly comfortable that we’ll work together well.”
Meanwhile the R&A will seek to broaden their scope of ticketing at Royal Troon with the addition of “twilight” tickets aimed for day workers who want to see the late golf on Thursday and Friday, and are “excited” by the innovations of new broadcast partners Sky and NBC Sports which will be unveiled at this year championship.
Slumbers is however keen that the current moratorium on Open venues also hosting the Scottish Open should continue.
“Every year the Old Course and Carnoustie host the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, but that event is all about playing sat the Home of Golf and we in the R&A support that,” he said.
“But we invest in Open courses, develop them to improving standards, and in my opinion the rarity value of playing there is part of the myth of the champion golfer.
“I think you’ll see this year that quite a good few of the players, including those very high in the world rankings, will have never seen Troon before.
“I think that adds to the myth and wonder of the Open and if that’s diluted too much it would be to the detriment of the championship. In my opinion it’s too important for that.”