GULLANE, Scotland — The Royal and Ancient held its annual press conference here Wednesday afternoon, and the club’s chief executive Peter Dawson endured a tense 45-minute session that included several questions about Muirfield’s men-only membership policy and drug testing in golf. The highlights:
ON HOSTING THE OPEN AT MUIRFIELD, A MEN-ONLY CLUB
Q: As you said, single-sex clubs are legal, but morally, what’s the difference between men only and whites only? DAWSON: Oh, goodness me. I think that’s a ridiculous question, if I may say so. There’s a massive difference between racial discrimination, anti-Semitism where sectors of society are downtrodden and treated very, very badly, indeed. And to compare that with a men’s golf club I think is frankly absurd. There’s no comparison whatsoever.
Q: To reference your earlier remarks, you made it seem as if there was a restless urge to drive Muirfield into extinction. But I’m not sure that’s really the case. No one disputes Muirfield’s right to cite its membership policy, but is the issue that the R&A is avowedly committed to growing the game throughout the world, and yet you bring the Open to a venue that excludes half the population. Is that not a moral dilemma? DAWSON: I understand the point, obviously. What I dispute is the fact of the matter that is does harm participation. I think the Open Championship at this absolutely magnificent venue enhances participation hugely. It’s going to be watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world…and I think that we will find that golfers, men and women, are inspired by what they see. I don’t think people are sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, this wonderful place, but…’ I really don’t. But we’re aware of that view. I don’t quite regard it as a moral issue. I think the practical side of it takes over my mind. To think that it would be a good thing for the Open Championship not to play it here, and perhaps to reduce the number of venues from nine to six in the UK, I could only imagine would do great harm to the championship, and not enhance it at all.
Q: You got a bit upset earlier about the comparison between whites-only and men-only clubs, but you said you don’t regard it as a moral issue. It doesn’t do anyone any harm. Could you just explain to the 10 women in the room why racism is unacceptable and sexism clearly still is? DAWSON: Well, I don’t really think, to be honest, and we could sit here all day and debate this, but I don’t really think that a golf club, which has a policy of being a place where like-minded men or, indeed, like-minded women, go and want to play golf together and do their thing together ranks up against some of these other forms of discrimination. I really just don’t think they’re comparable, and I don’t think they’re damaging. And it’s just kind of, for some people, a way of life that they rather like. I don’t think in doing that they’re intending to do others down or intending to do others any harm. It’s just a way of life that some of these people like. And realistically, that’s all it is. You can dress it up and be a lot more if you want, but on Saturday morning when the guy gets up or the lady gets up and out of the marital bed, if you like, and goes off and plays golf with his chums and comes back in the afternoon, that’s not on any kind of par with racial discrimination or anti-Semitism or any of these things. It’s just what people kind of do.
ON PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DRUGS IN GOLF
Q: It’s been six years, almost to the day, since Gary Player spoke about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs in golf. In the years that have passed, have you spoken to Gary Player about what he knows? And what have you done about it? DAWSON: Yes, I have spoken to Gary Player, and I don’t think I found very much out, to be honest, in specific terms. But you just can’t be complacent about these things. All you can do, I think is to ensure that players are properly educated, and that your drug-testing regime or anti-doping policies do as much as they can to trap miscreants. We must not be complacent here. I have no particular evidence of a problem. Everything I hear is anecdotal and hasn’t had very much specific behind it that I can latch on to, to be honest.
Q: You said you didn’t learn much from your conversation with Gary Player. Can I ask, did one of the world’s greatest ever golfers confirm to you that he knew of players that were taking banned substances? DAWSON: No, he did not.
Q: That is what he said six years ago, he said he knew of players — DAWSON: Just to make that clear, what I mean by that is, he certainly didn’t name any names, and therefore, I’m not sure what you can do with that information, other than be aware there may be a problem, and put in the policies to deal with it.
Q: How hard did you press him? Because there are quite serious allegations from a very, very, very respected golfer. DAWSON: Yes, well, quite frankly, I don’t remember how hard I pressed him. It’s quite a long time ago now.
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