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Royal & Ancient to admit women as members

September 18th 2014, St. Andrews, Scotland: After 260 years, equality finally has come to the most powerful and influential golf club in the world. Members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, have voted in favor of women joining the club.

Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson, who also acts as chief executive of the R&A, made the announcement to waiting media outside the Royal & Ancient clubhouse at St. Andrews.

“I am very pleased indeed to announce that the membership of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews has voted overwhelmingly in favor of welcoming women members,” Dawson said.

“More than three quarters of the club’s global membership took part in the ballot, with a decisive 85 percent voting for women to become members. This vote has immediate effect, and I can confirm that the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews is now a mixed-membership club.

“The membership also has acted to fast-track a significant initial number of women to become members in the coming months.

“This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. The R&A has served the sport of golf well for 260 years, and I am confident that the club will continue to do so in future with the support of all its members, both women and men.”

File photo of participants at Women's British Open

Dawson said earlier this year that the club had changed its rules to allow all members a vote because the issue was of such seminal importance. However, there also was talk of a fear of a significant number of local members turning up at the business meeting to scupper the motion. Typically about 300 members attend the business meeting, and that would have meant only 101 had to vote no to deny the needed two-thirds majority.

Helen Grant, the U.K.'s sports minister, has backed the decision.

"I am pleased that the members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews have voted in favor of admitting women members," she said.

"This is positive news for the sport, and I hope we will now see other golf clubs that still have outdated same-sex policies follow suit. With golf in the next Olympics, there is a huge opportunity for the sport to grow, and this sends out the right, inclusive message that golf is for everyone."

The Ladies Professional Golf Association also endorsed the move.

“The LPGA is happy to hear that the members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews have voted to include female members. This decision is certainly a step in the right direction and one that better captures the current diversity and inclusiveness of our great game.”

The R&A, the governing body attached to the club, has faced criticism for years over its strong ties to the Royal & Ancient, and for taking the Open Championship to all-male clubs such as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon.

The criticism was especially strong last year when the Open Championship was held at Muirfield. It increased earlier this year when one of the Open’s official patrons, HSBC, voiced its concerns.

“It’s a very uneasy position for the bank,” said Giles Morgan, head of global sponsorship for HSBC. “We would like to see it solved so we don’t keep talking about it. When you are showcasing one of the world’s greatest tournaments, it would be much more palatable if it were played where there was not a sense of segregation.”

The R&A has said it will still take the Open Championship to the three single-sex clubs on the rota. Of those three clubs, only Royal Troon has no plans to look at its membership. Royal St. George’s and the Honourable Company are to hold reviews.

Speculation abounds as to the women who will be fast-tracked into the club. Angela Bonallack, a six-time Curtis Cup player, is an obvious candidate. Annika Sorenstam, whose 72 LPGA victories include 10 major championships, also has been mentioned as a potential member.

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