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  • Alistair Tait

Every day should be women’s golf day

It’s women’s golf day today. How sad that we need one special day per year to celebrate women in golf.

Surely every day should be women’s golf day?

If you’re wondering when men’s golf day takes place then stop. There’s no such thing. Men don't need a special day to celebrate playing this great game. Every day has been men’s golf day since the game began.

Women’s golf day has been going for five years. That’s an indictment of our game in itself – that it took until 2015 before someone recognise we needed to big up women’s golf.

Mind you, it took until after that date for some of our top clubs to accept women after years of telling one half of the population it was okay to come into the club as cooks, cleaners, secretarial help, for women to play with their husbands or as guests. But membership? Don’t be silly.

You don’t need to go far to find examples of historical sexism in our game. From 1902 to 1927, a sign hung at formerly all-male Royal St George’s which read:

“Women are admitted to play on the course only on sufferance and must at all times give way to members.”

Lord Wellwood wrote in 1890:

“Constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf. … Temperamentally the strain will be too great for them.”

How about this entry in the ‘Complaints Book’ at Worcestershire Golf Club in 1881?

“I noticed a lady in the clubhouse at the weekend. I urge the Secretary to see that this does not happen again.”

Attitudes from a bygone era? Perhaps, but such attitudes persisted in certain quarters until recently. Remember, our elite clubs – the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Royal St George’s, Royal Troon and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – had to be dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century years after we’d actually entered the 21st century. The Honourable Company needed two votes before women were allowed into the club. Women are currently making slow inroads into these establishments: it hasn’t exactly been a flood.

Former HSBC head of marketing Giles Morgan deserves credit for making said clubs see the light. He went public with the bank’s unhappiness that Open Championship venues were still stuck in the pre-suffragette era. As a patron of Open Championship, his views carried a lot of weight.

If not for Morgan speaking out, we’d probably still be waiting for our top clubs to recognise the other half of the population. Morgan deserves a knighthood for helping break down a barrier that should have crumbled sometime early last century.

My own profession has hardly played its part in helping the situation. Writer and author Liz Kahn was a pioneer in trying to raise the profile of women’s golf. Kahn was proposed for membership of the Association of Golf Writers in 1968. She wasn’t admitted until 1979.

“As a non-member I did not receive press releases or credentials, which was a considerable hindrance. When I arrived at tournament in my car, I was always grilled about what I was doing by the attendant at the gate,” Kahn said.
“The next problem was getting into the clubhouse, if indeed women were allowed in at all. I had to avoid men’s bars, snooker rooms, sometimes a dining room (at one tournament where there was a men’s dining room, sandwiches were handed out to the women through a window) and I would not have contemplated going into the locker room.”

Kahn fought a running battle with the Royal & Ancient for the same access as male colleagues to Open Championship locker rooms. She was tossed out of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club's Big Room on more than one occasion, sometimes by female staff members. A member once barked:

“Not even the Queen can come in here!”

The irony wasn’t lost on Liz: a huge portrait of the Queen hangs in the Big Room.

Kahn recorded a first for women journalists when she was allowed to enter the locker room of the Honourable Company during the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield. However, she had to be escorted by then Royal & Ancient secretary Sir Michael Bonallack.

Kahn’s perseverance has paid off. Nowadays women are readily accepted into the AGW and the Golf Writers Association of America, albeit both organisations are still male dominated.

Times are changing, but slowly. Current R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers has championed women’s golf, making getting more women and girls into the game a key part of his tenure. It’s not an easy job. He’s fighting centuries of engrained sexism. Women account for approximately 13% of the total golf population in the United Kingdom. It’s a disgraceful percentage compared to some Continental European nations where the figure is above 30%

Kahn’s fight goes on. You only have to read the anguish in Meghan MacLaren’s writings about having to deal with inequality on a constant basis. Mel Reid launched a broadside at the lack of female participation in the TaylorMade Driving Relief. She was right to do so. It was yet another example of women’s golf being casually overlooked.

MacLaren (pictured), Reid and others shouldn’t have to expend energy on this issue. They certainly shouldn’t be pilloried for stating the obvious. Not in 2020.

Eradicating centuries of engrained sexism isn’t easy. Women’s golf day? No disrespect to the organisers who’ve worked hard on this year’s virtual event. I just wish they didn’t have to go to so much trouble to remind us women should be celebrated for playing this game.

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