Golf on snail’s pace towards equality
I’d love to be able to write on International Women’s Day that golf has true equality. It doesn’t. It isn’t even close.
In fact, we’ve hardly moved an inch in the 30 years I’ve been writing about golf. No wonder Emma Ballard was so disillusioned on Twitter today. She wrote:
“Feeling a little disillusioned this #IWD I wrote the following as an undergrad 14 years ago (excuse the appalling grammar) when social media didn't really exist! At times it really does feel that we're moving at a snail's pace to get anywhere when it comes to #equality in golf.”
She’s right to feel disillusioned. Women account for approximately 13% of the total golf population in the British Isles. That number has been static for years. It may be much higher if our top clubs had embraced equality much earlier rather than keeping women out for so long.
The Royal & Ancient, the world’s most influential club, only voted to admit women members in 2014 after 260 years of existence. Open Championship host clubs Royal St George’s, Royal Troon and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh golfers were forced to follow. Troon still hasn’t admitted women but is in the process of doing so. (Why the wait?) The Honourable Company needed a second vote to enable women to join. If that doesn’t call into question the “Honourable” tag, then I don’t know what does.
It’s a blight on our game that it took so long for our tops clubs to recognise the other half of the population. Giles Morgan deserves a lot of credit for forcing them to see the light.
Morgan was HSBC’s Global head of Sport in 2014 when he spoke publicly about HSBC’s unease at being a patron of the Open Championship when the tournament was being taken to all-male clubs. Here’s what he said:
“The R&A are clear that it's a very uneasy position for the bank. When you are showcasing one of the world's greatest tournaments it would be much more palatable if the events were played where there was not the sense of segregation.”
“We would like to see it get solved so we don't keep talking about it.”
I believe that marked a turning point for the game. The R&A quickly announced that its member club, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, would admit women members and the dominoes began to follow. The other elite clubs fell into line, albeit they had to be dragged kicking and screaming.
Morgan’s intervention should never be forgotten.
As for prize money, well let’s just say we are millions of pounds from being even close to equality. The 2020 Ladies European Tour 24-tournament schedule is worth a record €18 million. That’s a pittance compared to a 45-event European Tour schedule worth nearly three times that.
Fellow Woburn Golf Club member Meghan McLaren is campaigning hard to right the above financial imbalance, and deserves credit for doing so. (Her regular blog is well worth a read for those who haven’t read it.) She’s not the first to campaign on this issue, and won’t be the last.
MacLaren like Ballard, Nicole Wheatley, Karen Harding in Australia, and many others deserve credit for campaigning hard for parity. The governing bodies would help their cause if they would pay women equal prize money for the tournaments they run.
The Open Championship will be worth in excess of $10.5 million this year compared to $4.5 million for the AIG Women’s British Open. The U.S. Women’s Open clocks in at $5.5 million against a $12.5 million purse for the U.S. Open. The PGA Championship is worth $11 million while the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has a $4.3 million purse. The Masters is worth $11.5 million. There is no Women’s Masters.
Imagine the message it would send to our game if Augusta National instituted a women’s tournament and the above bodies offered equal prize money for their women’s events. If it can happen in tennis, why not golf?
Which of the four above organisations will take the plunge? If one does, the rest are sure to follow. Come on one of you, you know it’s the right thing to do.
I probably won’t be around 30 years from now. I hope I don’t have to wait that long to see golf become truly inclusive and fully equal.