Single sex golf clubs Q&A

In April 2013 Peter Dawson, the Chief Executive of The R&A, spoke to British golf journalists about the single gender golf club issue. 

The following is a transcript of this discussion and the questions asked by a number of different journalists.

PETER DAWSON:

This is an issue that's obviously getting a great deal of traction, it's very emotive, and people have very strong opinions about. And I'm not going to attempt to divert people from their chosen path or chosen opinions on this subject at all.

I'd like to spend a little bit of time on this and try to get it into balance. I do think that, however strong opinions are, the way this is often reported and the way that we have perhaps failed to get our message across does leave the general public with a slightly false impression of what things are like in the game of golf. I'd like to, before I go on to the substantive point, try to correct some of that with a few facts and figures to try to get some balance into the discussion.

I think golf has moved over time a hell of a long way from the stereotype of the particular golf club that was reported back in the 1950s and so on. I think it's done so because of general moves in society. It's a generational thing. There can be commercial pressures, societal pressures. But the average golf club in Britain today is a very different place to what it was 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

A few bits of information. There are no golf courses, I stress golf courses, I know about in Britain which are closed to either women or men as players. I don't think there are any that I know about. And if I'm a liar, it's maybe one or two, but I honestly don't know of any. So access to these golf courses for men and women exists.

Point two. There are about 3,000 courses in Britain. Around about 1% of them have a single sex membership policy. So this is a 1-in-a-100 number. It's not rife. It's not what many members of the public perceive when they read this subject. It's a much smaller number than perhaps is often believed. Of that 1% or so, half of them, slightly more than half, are women-only clubs in Britain. And there's obviously historical reason for that, as to why these clubs were first formed, because they couldn't get into the men's clubs at that time. But one hundred years on plus, it's quite different today, and these women-only clubs are fiercely independent by and large.

So it's quite a balanced thing, the number of single sex clubs that are out there. It's also interesting that a vast majority of single sex clubs in Britain are in Scotland. There are very few in England. There are none in Wales that I know about. The vast majority are in Scotland. Much of it, not all of it, but much of it reflects the sharing of golf courses by a number of different clubs.

And this is the situation that we see here, for example, in St Andrews, where the courses are public. Anybody can play, young, old, domestic, foreign, men, women. There are five clubs, private clubs, around the Links, which share the courses with visitors.

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