R&A chief faces questions about men-only St. Andrews club after criticism from St. Andrews University president

Peter Dawson
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R&A chief executive Peter Dawson would not speculate on whether club members would vote to admit women at the club's September meeting.

HOYLAKE, England -- Peter Dawson waited a long time for the inevitable question at the R&A press conference at the 143rd British Open at Hoylake on Wednesday. When it finally came, on the 14th question amid a packed interview room, the R&A’s chief executive said, “It’s not for me to speculate” whether the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews will vote to allow women members for the first time at its annual meeting Sept. 18.

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But that was hardly the end of the matter. Louise Richardson, the first woman principal of St. Andrews University (the equivalent of an American university president), spoke publicly about the men-only club for the first time last week. She told The New York Times that the neighboring club’s exclusionary policy has negatively impacted her ability to do her job. Unlike her predecessors, Richardson was not extended an honorary invitation to join the club upon taking over in 2009, and she told Karen Crouse, the Times golf writer, that the snub has been more than a mild nuisance. Richardson is barred, for example, from dining at the R&A with university donors. She said R&A members have even waved their club ties in her face, as if they somehow found the whole thing funny.

“The last thing I want to do is sound strident about this because on my list of concerns, it’s not high up there, and yet it’s tough when you think about it,” Richardson, a golfer, told The Times. “Here’s St. Andrews University, ranked third in the UK, we’re an organization of 10,000 people, we support 9,000 jobs, I run this place very successfully, and I’m not allowed in the clubhouse 600 yards from my house?”

Predictably, the image of R&A members haughtily waving their ties in Richardson’s face made headlines in the UK, especially with the Sept. 18 vote looming. Predictably, the R&A’s Dawson wasn’t eager to get into the details concerning the jilted university president on Wednesday.

“Yes, I did read those comments,” Dawson said. “I obviously don’t want to dwell on this in what’s an Open Championship press conference. To be honest, we just don’t recognize those remarks as in any way accurately representing the relationship between the R&A and St. Andrews University.

“We have an excellent relationship,” Dawson continued. “We’re very supportive of the university. We’ve been very supportive of its fund-raising efforts. In fact, its 600th anniversary fund-raiser just finished, and we contributed 500,000 pounds to it, a not inconsiderable sum in support of St. Andrews University. And really that’s all I have to say on this.”

But it wasn’t. Dawson concluded his remarks by repeating, “We just don’t recognize those remarks as in any way accurately representing the relationship between the two bodies.”

Two more questions passed before New York Times writer Crouse, at Hoylake to cover the British Open after reporting the Richardson story from St. Andrews last week, asked, “Just to follow up on Louise, are you calling into question the truthfulness of Louise’s remarks?”

“I don’t know what Louise actually said,” Dawson said, “and I assume the article was accurate in reflecting what she said. But I do feel that one or two things are not quite as portrayed. But really that’s all I have to say on that matter.”

This time, at least, he was correct, for there seemed to be no further questions, and that was the end of the press conference.

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