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Equality: The Winds Of Change Are Blowing
Amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act mean that golf clubs will no longer be able to treat women as second class citizens, as Nick Rodger reports

Emily Pankhurst and her hardy bunch of suffragettes may have helped get women the vote back in 1928, but they would have found getting a round of golf on a Saturday morning a much tougher proposition.

Had they tried, there is a good chance they would have been told firmly, yet politely, to come back on Tuesday for ladies day before being hastily ushered from the premises because in those days women were not allowed in the bar.

The golf club has often been seen as a bastion of male domination, where men are men and women are... well non-existent.

According to this prejudiced view, whisky is sipped, cigars are smoked and yellow v-necks are worn, all in an atmosphere that is as stuffy as a taxidermist's loft.

But a new set of laws is about to disrupt this cosy existence and wade into the men only bars, grab golf by the club tie and drag it into the world of equal opportunity.

For some, it is a system that is long overdue and there will no doubt remain a few who will dig their heels in - those relics of the golf club who have been members since the mid-cretaceous period and who still harbour the opinion that a woman's place is on the small patch of linoleum between the sink and the ironing board.

In almost every facet of modern life, women have been assumed to stand on a level ground with their male counterparts.

Politics, the military, sport, the business world are all seen as veritable hotbeds of equal opportunity but golf continues to suffer an image problem.

For outsiders peering in, the sport has always had something of a staid image.

Accusations of snobbery and sexism have plagued the game for years and while they may not be terms that golfers like to hear associated with their sport they are as much a part of the old image as plus fours and hickory clubs - and perception can be a difficult thing to change.

The game's image is not helped by remarks such as: 'You women want equality, but you'll never get it because women are inferior to men in all sorts of ways - physically, mentally and morally.'

And who was responsible for such utterances? Not Bernard Manning but one of the game's most eminent professionals, Seve Ballesteros. Admittedly, it was said over 20 years ago, but even now it is a view that can still, sadly, be occasionally heard in golf clubs.

But just what are these new laws?

'Our position is quite clear,' says Catherine Evans of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

'All golf clubs should have equal rights. We are very keen to see clubs opening up to promote equal membership and not have this old fashioned level of membership whereby women are treated in a second-class fashion.'

In a nutshell, the new rules, an extension to the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, will mean that at mixed clubs men and women will have the right to enjoy equal benefits for the first time.

The rule banning women from teeing-up on a Saturday will be lifted; ladies will get equal voting rights in club affairs; all management and committee positions, and that includes the role of club captain, will be open to both sexes.

Finally, the act will see the end of men only bars and ladies' lounges.

Hardly ground breaking advances in this day and age you might think, but for some antiquated golf clubs it means dispensing, perhaps somewhat grudgingly, with deeply rooted notions and decades-old traditions.

Failure to comply could result in serious punishment.

'Apart from licensing implications, golf clubs may be forced to amend time honoured rules such as subscription fee variations, applications for memberships, tee reservations and playing times,' explains employment law specialist, well versed in equal opportunities legislation, Joan Pettingill.

'Such revisions to golfing policies will have to be implemented or clubs may face costly litigation.'
Quite simply, the cashmere knit is about to hit the fan and for many it is not before time.

'We've advocated this type of move for years,' says Ray Burniston of the Association of Golf Club Secretaries. 'We have a number of lady secretaries in our association and now it's about time clubs started to put their house in order.

'They have to face up to the fact that we must have equal rights for everybody and the sooner they do that the better.'

It may be easier said than done, however. Although the wheels of revolution have started to turn, change does not happen overnight. After all, the campaign to install full membership for women golfers was first initiated some 20 years ago and only now is it beginning to bear fruit.

'I've been involved with golf for over 30 years,' adds Ray Burniston. 'I've noticed a lot of changes in that time. The game's evolved over the years but change doesn't happen overnight, it takes time. In say 20 years from now, attitudes at clubs will be different and people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.'

Try telling that to the club secretary who, as you read, will be attempting to formulate some sort of strategy to deal with this latest development.

Tentative moves to implement the new legislation are already being made all around the country.

The Equal Opportunities Commission is currently drawing up a code of practice for clubs that will not be completed until the end of the year. In the meantime, clubs have to sit round the table and iron out their own deals.

Already, problems have started to rear their heads. The Scottish Ladies' Golfing Association has had letters from female golfers complaining about the take-it-or-leave-it attitude at some clubs.

On the other side of the coin however, there are plenty of women who are quite happy to preserve the status quo.

Being an associate member of a club means a considerable reduction in the annual subscription in return for golf on selected days of the week.

'Some ladies will see no need to introduce these new measures,' says SLGA secretary Susan Simpson.

'Getting equal rights may mean paying an increased subscription and many ladies feel that unless they are going to be taking an active role in club affairs, there is no point in paying the extra.'

But while such an arrangement may suit the established female player, many of whom either work in the home or are retired, it remains somewhat of an inconvenience for the new breed of working women golfers, for whom weekends are virtually the only times available for them to play.

The new legislation will almost certainly cover this issue, but with clubs being legally forced to amend their rules concerning female golfers, Susan Simpson believes that a voluntary approach would be the smoothest way forward but the process will be speeded up by welcome legislation.

'We all want equal opportunities, and for clubs to acknowledge women members' worth, but we also want the issues resolved amicably. A lot of clubs actually want to bring in these measures and we would ask clubs to action this voluntarily prior to the issue being forced.'

While committee rooms will be ringing to the sound of heated debates and feverish negotiations, one club will be sitting back safe in the knowledge that it has forged well ahead in the equal opportunity race.

Situated in the Surrey stockbrocker belt, Foxhills Golf and Country Club offers a unique insight into the future of the game.

Of its 1,400 members, 350 of them are women. They pay the same subscription fees as the men, enjoy similar playing and voting rights as the men and take part in the same competitions as the men.

In addition to this, Anita Olrog is all set to become one of the first women in Britain to be installed as club captain this September.

'We have always been a family club,' admits Foxhills PR manager Caroline Uzielli, the daughter of R&A captain John Uzielli.

'Anyone can play here and just because you're a woman it doesn't necessarily mean that you're a worse player. Being such a family orientated club makes for a very friendly atmosphere.

'It makes playing the game much more fun and that really is the true nature of golf. I think at other clubs around the country, change will happen but it will take a long time.'

And while Foxhills has blazed a trail, Scotland has been quietly conducting its own revolution - only recently Scottish Golf reported on Lesley Hardie's appointment as overall captain of Peterculter GC, and she is certainly not the first such appointment north of the border.

Where things won't change is in single-sex clubs that are excluded from the amended law and thus have no need to bring in sweeping changes.

'We have no policy as such as far as equal opportunities is concerned, ' says Ian Bunch, secretary of the all-male Prestwick Golf Club.

'The new law won't affect us, but we are still keen to encourage female golf. We are a tourist resort after all and visiting women golfers are subject to the same rules as everyone else. We want to put something back into the game.

'We are holding the ladies' West of Scotland championship here in May and the Scottish Ladies' Amateur championship is coming in 2004. Our system here works well, there's no need to change it and we're quite happy with that.'

The game's ruling body the Royal and Ancient is also excluded from the amended legislation. There is nothing in the rule book that suggests that the R&A is an all-male club, that is just the way it has developed over the years, but whether it too will be forced to bow to equal opportunity pressures remains to be seen.

What is certain is that golf has for some time been in the throes of major upheaval. Long held beliefs about how clubs are run are about to be severely challenged.

The baton of change has been thrust into golf's hand and it is up to the clubs to run with it. With Scotland currently embroiled in bidding for the 2009 Ryder Cup, the legislation has perhaps come at a perfect time.

After all, one of the main features of the Scottish bid concerns golf development, to improve opportunities for women in golf, to remove the last lingering traces of elitism and sexism, and to give every girl and boy equal chances to play the game.

The opportunity to transform the golfing landscape, to make the game more accessible and continue to reflect the societal attitudes in which it is set will all act as a catalyst for a brighter future for golf.

The SGU is set to discuss its views on the new equal opportunities legislation and reveal the findings of its recent survey of clubs on this real issue for golf in Scotland


At a glance guide to what the new Discrimination Act will mean for mixed clubs -

Men and women pay the same subscription fee for each category of membership

In each category, the playing restrictions apply equally to both men and women

Both parties will have an equal say when it comes to club affairs

Opportunities will exist for women to stand for positions on club committees or management boards

The position of club captain will be open to both men and women

There will be an end to men only bars and ladies' lounges.


©    8 - AUGUST 2001



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