After 260 Years, Golf Club Admits Women Members

Annika Sorenstam tees off during a pro-am event before the 2007 British Women’s Open at The Old Course at St. Andrews. CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/MATT DUNHAM, FILE)
Annika Sorenstam tees off during a pro-am event before the 2007 British Women’s Open at The Old Course at St. Andrews. CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/MATT DUNHAM, FILE)

Sixty-five years after the formation of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, nearly four decades after the first Women’s British Open, and after more than two-and-a-half centuries of allowing only men to join its membership ranks, one of golf’s oldest and most famous clubs this week finally admitted its first women members, including the daughter of Queen Elizabeth and golfing legend Annika Sorenstam.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, in Scotland, voted in September to allow women members for the first time since it was formed 260 years ago, and announced that its first members had accepted this week. In addition to Princess Anne and Sorenstam, the club added five other women’s golfers: four-time major champion Laura Davies and amateur Belle Robertson from Britain; Americans Renee Powell, the second black woman to ever play on the LPGA Tour, and Louise Suggs, an 11-time major winner; and France’s Lally Segard, the president of the International Golf Federation.

“I am very honored to be one of the lucky ladies,” Sorenstam tweeted after the announcement.

Though those women are only “honorary” members, the club also announced that “a number of women have been admitted as members of the Club with more set to follow in the coming months” (it does not disclose the names of full members).

The club (which is now separate from the R&A;, one of golf’s governing bodies) has more than 2,400 members worldwide, and more than 85 percent of the membership voted for a change in the policy in September. The vote came two years after Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club, the annual host of The Masters, admitted its first women members after years of challenges from prominent women’s groups and activists.

The Old Course at St. Andrews is listed among the oldest golf courses in the world and has hosted more British Open tournaments than any other course. It has twice hosted the Women’s British Open. But the R&A;’s policy against women members had drawn increasingly loud calls for change from prominent women, including the president of nearby St. Andrews University.

“Here’s St. Andrews University, ranked third in the U.K., 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?” Louise Richardson, the first women president of St. Andrews University, told the New York Times last year.

Richardson was not among the honorary members announced, even though it has typically extended such memberships to the men who preceded her.

“We wish the R&A; every success and look forward to the resumption of the tradition by which previous principals of St. Andrews were invited to become honorary members,” the university said in a statement.

Some of Britain’s other most prominent courses remain open only to male members. Muirfield, the host of the 2013 British Open, is a men’s-only club, as are two other courses — Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon — that are regular Open hosts. The vote at St. Andrews did not affect those courses, R&A; club secretary Peter Dawson told Golf Magazine last year.

‘’I don’t want you to think there’s any connection between this vote and these issues,’’ Dawson said. ‘’What other clubs choose to do in the UK is not connected to this. … To be entirely honest, we’re not here to put pressure on other clubs that have supported The Open Championship and other R&A; championships.’’

It’s about time those courses got rid of such archaic policies too.