At this time of year it’s a real pleasure to watch golf which comes from sunnier climes. America, South Africa, Australia and the Middle East remind us of things to come, and, as the nights start to draw out and the first snowdrops appear, with magnificent spring flowers not far behind, my mind races ahead to the first two Majors of the year – for the men, the Masters at Augusta, and for the ladies, the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills in Palm Springs.
While Mission Hills is certainly female friendly, with both male and female members, and has played host to the Kraft Nabisco in its various guises since 1972, Augusta’s membership policy has been strictly “men-only” for its 80- year history.
At least it was until last year when Darla Moore, a prominent businesswoman and financier from South Carolina, along with Condoleezza Rice became the first two women members.
Augusta’s policy has long been attacked by women’s activists, notably Martha Burk, who along with her like-minded friends demonstrated at the gates to Augusta during the Masters in 2003. Burk’s campaigning and heated verbal battles with the then Masters chairman, Hootie Johnson, got so much media attention that it completely overshadowed the build-up that year!
So, with the inclusion of two prominent American women, have things really changed at Augusta?
I would say that they haven’t.
As an outsider, I get the feeling that this was a token gesture created by political pressure which most definitely won’t be opening the floodgates to future female membership of one of the most elite golf clubs in the world.
Having said that, it is a start, and I am firmly of the opinion that change comes from within, from setting good examples and with the voice of reason.
Augusta is such an unusual club – the annual cost of running the club is divided between its membership for a start, so that would eliminate more than 99 per cent of the American population, let alone the female golf playing population!
Since the membership determines its own policies, it is highly unlikely that the majority would turn around and vote for equal numbers of men and women to be the future membership.
Like all elite clubs, you can play at Augusta as a guest of a member. Most of the top LPGA players have played it and are happy just to get the opportunity to play there. Laura Davies, Paula Creamer and Juli Inkster all spring to mind. I asked some of my golfing friends whether or not they would accept in the event of being invited to become a member at Augusta.
Their reactions were mixed. Some said absolutely not under any circumstances, some said yes, of course, while others still said it would be conditional upon certain criteria being met.
Later on this year, the men’s Open will be returning to Muirfield and the Ricoh Women’s British Open to St Andrews, home of the Royal & Ancient. At both those institutions, membership is restricted to men only.
I fully expect that once again, with the spotlight falling on them, certain elements of the media will again raise the issue of their membership policies.
Should the situation change at these clubs? I can see the situation from both perspectives. Change only comes about if the majority want it, or when it is forced upon the membership by the government of the day. As long as it is legally permissible for clubs like Muirfield to have a male-only membership policy, then I can’t see that changing in my lifetime.
Realistically, the current membership aren’t suddenly going to vote to have women included.
Good behaviour on a golf course and the pace at which you play have nothing to do with your sex,handicap or ability
When I was growing up as a junior member at Faversham, in Kent, when I’d achieved a single-figure handicap, I was allowed to play with the men on Sunday mornings.
Going back to the 1970s, women’s membership had restricted access at the weekends. This courtesy was offered to any women achieving single figures but one which only I accepted.
I have always maintained that good behaviour on a golf course and the pace at which you play have nothing to do with your sex,handicap or ability. Rather it depends on how you’ve been introduced to the game, have learned to get yourself round the course and whether or not you’re considerate of your fellow players.
I’ve known selfish professionals and single- figure-handicappers and conversely high-handicap players who are aware of everyone else and who always keep up.
I like a lot of our golf traditions and the fact that our sport still has a lot of integrity and is self-policing.
I’m proud to be a professional but do think that some clubs need to modernise with admitting female members as a priority, subject to their golfing status of course!
Only recently the UK’s business secretary, Vince Cable, stated: “Every FTSE 100 board should have a significant female presence by 2015. This is not about equality, but about good governance and good business. The international evidence supports this: diverse boards are better boards benefiting from fresh perspectives and new ideas.”
Surely these words apply just as much to golf clubs as they do to businesses.
Read more about the ladies game HERE