Never let it be said that the pace of change at the Royal & Ancient is anything but glacial. As the institution hurtles towards its 150th birthday, as falls in 2021, relative revolution is in the pipeline.
Five years have passed since the R&A was dragged, virtually at the point of a bayonet, towards something approaching the 21st century by allowing women to become members. That time-honoured traditions (discrimination), even slower to break down at Muirfield, lasted so long is as farcical now as was the case in 2014.
In early 2017, it was revealed there were still no changing facilities for females within the R&A clubhouse. The R&A was unrepentant about a policy whereby women had to wander up the street at St Andrews to Forgan House when seeking a shower or place of privacy to switch clothing.
“We were delighted to welcome women as members of the club and made a substantial investment in our facilities to provide a modern and comfortable locker room for women members to use,” said the R&A at the time. “Forgan House is an integral part of the club and is key to the service we provide to all our members as a mixed-sex golf club.”
In one memorable encounter with a high-profile, enraged R&A member the “intellectual paucity” of the article which pointed out the desperately embarrassing message given out by the locker-room situation was emphasised. He did apologise.
Belatedly – and surprisingly – this scenario is to change. In a move that must be linked in part to the backlash the R&A suffered almost three years ago, a female changing room is to be built into the historic clubhouse. It says everything about lingering perceptions that this is notable in the first place.
“We are in the early stages of planning upgrades to the clubhouse, including the installation of women’s changing rooms,” a spokesman for the R&A said. “We are consulting with members before we finalise our plans. There is no firm timetable but it will be a phased programme which will take us beyond 2021.”
The number of women among the R&A’s global membership of around 2,000 is unknown. Princess Anne, Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam were among the first to gain admission.
Perhaps it is unfair to castigate the R&A for doing the right thing. The clubhouse, as opened in 1854, will not be a particularly easy building to modify. The enhancements will be costly.
Nonetheless, it is bizarre that having admitted women to such fanfare, the delivering of equal facilities was not an immediate goal. For five years and counting the R&A has been happy to portray an image of inclusivity and fairness where practicalities imply otherwise. The R&A has not sought publicity for its upcoming alterations but we should not be showering it with rose petals for the delivery of equality.
The vast income of the Open, as controlled by the R&A’s corporate wing – in which women feature prominently – means bucket collections will not be called for.
The R&A was a key constituent of the Women in Golf Charter, as unveiled to inspire “an industry-wide commitment to developing a more inclusive culture within golf around the world and enable more women and girls to flourish and maximise their potential at all levels of the sport.”
As recently as last year the St Andrews Town Match – where R&A members and staff take on local clubs – was male only. Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, has played in this fixture. It was made gender neutral for this year, apparently in direct acknowledgement of the charter rather than the proactive steps the R&A supposedly took in 2014. Incongruous? You bet.
Slumbers’ wonderful office will shortly reverberate to the sound of hammers and drills. Where there is a will, eventually there is a way.