The United States proved it was ready to elect a black president, but is the Royal and Ancient Golf Club ready to admit a female member? We’re about to find out.
Seems the testosterone-rich R&A, which in its 255-year history has never accepted a female member, is getting the Martha Burk treatment — from Scotland’s highest-ranking politician no less. At the center of the debate is Dr. Louise Richardson, who recently became the first female principal of St. Andrews University. Her two immediate predecessors in the post were both invited to join the R&A, but so far the same privilege has not been extended to Richardson — a snub that has ticked off Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister.
“The Royal and Ancient Golf Club should follow their long-standing practice of offering membership to the Principal of St. Andrews University,” Salmond said this week, “and I am sure that after due consideration they will continue with that honorable tradition.”
Another Scottish lawmaker, Claire Barker of Fife, was more blunt: “It’s more than 500 years since Mary Queen of Scots become the first woman to tee off at the home of golf, but it seems that the Royal and Ancient is still stuck in the middle ages.
"It is high time the fuddy-duddies who run the club put their chauvinist attitudes to one side and joined the 21st century."
If this vitriol rings familiar, it's straight out of the playbook of Martha Burk, the former chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, who famously berated Augusta National in 2003 for its failure to admit female members. The club scoffed, and has stuck to its guns — sorry, bayonets — ever since.
As for the R&A? Salmond’s pleading might get the club's ear but don’t get expect it to cave (at least not happily), not as long as R&A Secretary Peter Dawson has the reins. In 1996, when Judy Bell was elected president of the USGA, Bell was flatly denied an invitation to join the R&A, despite a long-standing tradition of USGA presidents getting the nod.
"We don't see why all clubs have to be the same,” Dawson told a British golf publication at the time. “It’s hardly life-threatening is it?”