x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A new sign of the times at British Open

Of all the changes that have been made at the Royal St George's golf club, the most significant is not a hole being lengthened or the narrowing of a fairway.

The Royal St George's course used to have a less than welcoming sign for its female visitors, saying 'No dogs, no women', before it was removed a few years ago.
The Royal St George's course used to have a less than welcoming sign for its female visitors, saying 'No dogs, no women', before it was removed a few years ago.

Of all the changes that have been made at the Royal St George's golf club, the most significant is not a hole being lengthened or the narrowing of a fairway.

It is instead the decision made a few years ago to remove a sign which welcomed — or rather, did not welcome — visitors to the clubhouse.

"No dogs, no women", it said.

The sign is not there anymore, but the philosophy still very much exists at the venue of the 2011 British Open.

This is an event which first started in 1860. It seems some people are still stuck in those more unenlightened times.

Yet, this is apparently acceptable. Those in charge of golf believe a male-only policy is only a problem with some people in the media who want to cause a bother.

But they are missing the point.

Imagine for a moment if the US Open were held at an all-white course (such establishments still exist). Golf's reputation would be destroyed, and rightly so. Yet, bar women from a clubhouse because of their sex and it brings the biggest money-spinner in the game.

Peter Dawson is the chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, golf's governing body, which has never had a female member. He was forced to deal with this issue last week, and did not do very well.

"The ban on women is not an issue people talk about very much," he said. Maybe not at Royal St George's, where women can play the course as guests and use the facilities, but only on weekdays.

They do not talk about the men-only subject at Muirfield on the east coast of Scotland, either, where the British Open will be held two years from now and where there is a similar policy towards women.

Dawson was quizzed about this on BBC radio by journalist Nicky Campbell. He should be made to listen to his comments in the hope it would hit home just how outrageous all of this is.

Campbell asked: "What about the controversy about women not being allowed to join this club?"

Dawson's answer was: "Well, we bring The Open Championship to the best courses in the United Kingdom ..."

And that prompted Campbell to interject: "Peter, has Harold Wilson [Britain's prime minister in the 1970s] just resigned? This is 2011."

Dawson took a second to compose himself and then said: "Is it not up to individual clubs what their policy is?"

You could argue that point. Although anyone who is not living in the dark ages would then suggest that such clubs should not be awarded a major championship.

Apparently "less than half of one per cent" of UK courses have an all-male policy, according to Dawson. It is just unfortunate that two of these were be given a major within two years of one another.

The British Open makes its host venue a lot of money, much of it from the BBC, a public broadcaster paid for by the licence fees from both sexes. Surely someone has to put pressure on Muirfield to change their draconian ways or this subject will raise its head again in 2013.

Anyone who took a look at the past four days of golf would have seen how much this game has changed. All different nationalities compete and the game has become truly global. Golf is, or rather should be, a sport for everyone and holding the best tournaments at clubs that do not allow women members does nothing for its image.

In 1988, Royal St George's hosted the Curtis Cup, an event for the best female amateur golfers from the US and Britain. This caused quite a bit of debate at the time, but there is still no plan to even discuss the club's rules.

"I see no reason for change," said Edward Demery, the club captain.

Oh, but there is.

The tournament is called The Open for a reason. There is a clue somewhere in the name if you look hard enough.

 

ncameron@thenational.ae