Golf, prejudice, and a small step towards the 21st century

News of the week. Augusta golf club admits Condoleezza Rice to membership. The move may be less about more enlightened attitudes, than about pressure for golf to become more inclusive in order to fulfil the ideals of a sport now included in a future Olympic Games

A few years ago, I was astonished to learn from close friends that golf clubs in England and Scotland were effectively barring women, people of colour, and of non-Christian beliefs and various other minorities from membership. For example, the distinguished President of a Ladies section of a Belgian club told me how she had offered hospitality to an English guest at her club. When he subsequently invited her to return her courtesies, he was forced to operate within ‘get round’ rules which made her an ‘honorary male’ of club to which he belonged.

What about Ginni Rometti?

Returning to the Auugusta story, The Australian suggested that the admission was the consequence of the tradition in the club of offering membership to the CEO of IBM, one of its main sponsors of the Masters event held at Augusta each year. This presented a problem when IBM recently appointed its first female CEO, Ginni Rometti.

A dilemma of tradition

It is tempting to speculate that within the club a strategy emerged, perhaps designed to placate IBM and the growing pressures being exerted on the institution from several libertarian pressure movements. Why not appoint a major female figure with sound political credentials and who is also black? And we can head off the IBM issue by inviting a local business woman, Darla Moore.

This glass ceiling is now expected to be smashed in the autumn, by the sight of Ms Rice and Ms Moore wielding their drivers. If Augusta National can move into the 21st century, then what about the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland? Formed in 1754, the world’s most prestigious club has yet to open its doors to women. It has about 2400 members and is showing no sign of changing its all-male policy.

Then there are the Olympics

Another pressure point may be coming from the Olympics committee which has accepted Golf as a sport for the 2016 Games in Rio. [I have not been able to find any specific reference to back up this idea, and welcome comments from LWD subscribers: Ed].

Why bother to join such clubs?

Private clubs have to right to exclude anyone they choose. Groucho Marx famously and ironically noted, that he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would let him in. It reminds me of a twist to another favourite saying of mine that golf clubs get the members they deserve and the power they can preserve.

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