Royal and Ancient Golf Club set for historic St Andrews vote

There is set to be a huge vote going on in Scotland today – and no, it isn’t the one everyone is thinking of. Instead it concerns Royal and Ancient Golf Club and a poll by its members to decide whether or not to allow female members to join St Andrews.

If the majority vote ‘yes’ then women who have made a “significant contribution” to golf will be first in line to join the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

The vote will bring to a head 260 years of male exclusivity, with current members being asked if they would agree to 15 female members being admitted at once.

It has been said that possible candidates include former USGA president Judy Bell, St Andrews University principal Louise Richardson and former top amateur player Carol Semple Thompson, while Laura Davies has said she would “snap their hands off” if offered membership.

A spokesman for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews said: "The club is balloting its members on a change to its membership rules that would enable it to welcome women members.

"Over 2,400 ballot papers have been sent out and the vote is independently scrutinised by Electoral Reform Services. A simple majority is required to effect the proposed change. Should the outcome be in favour of welcoming women members the decision will take immediate effect.

"The first women members in a mixed membership Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews are likely to have made a significant contribution to the development of our sport."

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson explained in March that the club felt it had “strong support” in favour of women members, although he also insisted the move was not intended to place pressure on male-only clubs on the Open Championship rota.

There are three clubs on the 10-strong rota with male-only membership policies – Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St George’s – with Troon feeling it should not be directly compared to the other two.

Club secretary David Brown said in a statement: "At present, membership of Royal Troon Golf Club is open only to those of the male gender and we have no plans to change our constitution at this time, although I must point out that we are quite different from many of the other single gender clubs in that we share our facilities with an active Ladies Golf Club.

"The Ladies Golf Club Troon (founded in 1882) is an autonomous club with 370 members and their own clubhouse, captain and committee, but play all of their golf on our Royal Troon courses; most of their competitions are held on our Portland Course but they also have exclusive use of the Old Course (Championship Course) for some of their competitions and may play over the Old Course on demand. The Ladies Golf Club also have full access to our practice ground facilities.

"My understanding is that The Ladies Golf Club Troon are perfectly happy with the current arrangement and have no desire to become full members of Royal Troon Golf Club.

"Members of both RTGC and TLGCT are looking forward to the 2016 Open where together they will be working with the R&A to produce another excellent Open Championship."

Both Muirfield and Royal St George’s have already taken the matter of allowing female members to join their clubs by undertaking internal reviews of their current membership rules.

Muirfield is owned and run by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which said in a statement: "In March 2014, HCEG confirmed its intention to review the membership criteria by consulting with members to determine the best way forward. In order to ensure that this consultation is handled in a thoroughly objective and professional manner, a specialist company has been commissioned.

"All HCEG Members will be invited to participate and the process will start in late September 2014, by which time the R&A decision concerning women members will be known.

"The research will be undertaken over the winter and a report will be completed in March 2015. The findings will be considered by HCEG during the spring of next year."

Tim Checketts, secretary of Royal St George’s made their statement via Press Association Sport in March, saying: "For a while now, The Royal St George's Golf Club has been considering its position as a single-sex private members golf club and when deliberations are concluded, the committee will make a recommendation to the membership in the normal way."

So while the world watches on today in anticipation of what Scotland will decide, so too will people be watching the vote at St Andrews where a 200-plus year tradition could be about to come to a close.