Men and Women Only Golf Clubs
31 August 2014
An overview of the position on membership of historic men and women clubs.
This text has been updated in 2018 to reflect the discovery of Earlsferry and Fortrose clubs and recent votes to change rules of admission.
Golf has come along way since the beginning of last century, when Joyce Wethered, four times winner of the British Ladies Amateur Championship, had to wait for her male playing partner in the car park at Sandwich Golf Club, as she was not allowed in the clubhouse. She said that she kept her hands and fingers warm on the radiator of someone’s Rolls Royce. Golf club prejudices at the this time did not exclusively relate to women. In 1920, Walter Hagen, as a professional, was refused admission to the clubhouse at the Open at Deal and he ate his lunch in the car park. Nowadays, all clubhouses are open to men and women, amateurs and professionals as visitors on an equal basis.
Next month the Royal and Ancient golf club will vote on whether to admit women members. This is of less significance inside golf than many people think, as the courses on which the R&A play are public and the main obligations which the R&A discharge are run by separate organisations that already have widespread representation. None the less, the club itself represents golf to the world and the change is generally seen as an essential move forward. It is expected to be supported, but, if not, then it will undoubtedly be in the near future. (Update: On 18th September 2014, the R&A formally announced the result of its vote in favour of admitting women members with immediate effect.)
Shortly afterewards, the Royal Burgess GC held a similar vote, which was not carried.
Less well known is the fact that there are several historic women only clubs. There are three in St Andrews as reported on the R&A website, and the R&A change may affect them.
As at the beginning of 2014, there are 22 women only Scottish golf clubs affiliated to the SLGA, listed in Early Women's Golf with at least four others not affiliated. Of these, 9 are cited in this website, as prominent early clubs and are still women only clubs. (The other Scottish women’s clubs mentioned here are now amalgamated with the related men’s club.)
Comparing these 9 women’s clubs to the oldest 18 Scottish societies (all originally male) gives the following result at today's date (updated 11 Nov 2018):
|Men Only||Women only||Mixed|
|Clubhouse, 3rd party course||0||6||2|
|Course and clubhouse||2||2||11|
The mixed older clubs are Royal & Ancient, Honourable Company, Bruntsfield Links, Royal Musselburgh, Fraserburgh, Royal Aberdeen, Crail, Earlsferry (Elie), Port Royal (Cruden Bay), Kingsbarns, Dunbar, Fortrose, Royal Montrose and Scotscraig. All except Royal & Ancient and Royal Montrose run their own courses. Arguably, Port Royal use Cruden Bay clubhouse.
Of the first 18 golf clubs, Thistle are no longer active and Burntisland owns neither a course nor clubhouse.
Royal Burgess and Glasgow golf clubs own both their courses and clubhouses.
Though it is the oldest women's golfing club, the Ladies Putting Club St Andrews does not own a clubhouse.
Aberdeen Ladies, Carnoustie Ladies, Ladies Panmure Monifieth, St Rule St Andrews, St Regulus St Andrews and Troon Ladies all have their own clubhouses but play 3rd party courses, the majority of which are public courses.
Time and Tide
Most of the remaining men only clubs have extensive rights of play for wives on the same terms as members and all clubhouse facilities and courses are available to men or women equally as visitors.
There are, of course, other Scottish men only clubs, such as at Prestwick and St Andrews, as well as other women only clubs elsewhere, not included in the above.
The UK women’s golfing associations were all older that their male equivalents and most have merged with them. The Scottish Ladies Golfing Association, founded 1904, is currently discussing an amalgamation with the Scottish Golf Union (1920).(Update: this has now happened.)
Less than 10% of people in the developed world play golf. Women’s participation in golf is about 20% that of men. In US there 29 million golfers of whom 78% are male and 22% female. Worldwide, there are about 50 million golfers, playing on about 34,000 courses.
In Europe, the overall average women's club membership is 25% but this marks a considerable disparity between England, with only 14% of club members being women, and elsewhere in Europe, such as in Germany, Austria and Holland, where women are 35% of club membership. It is likely the different subscription arrangements have an effect, such as where partners can play for free, as opposed to 'couple' subscriptions, more common in some countries than others.
About 9% of the British Golf Collectors Society are women, indicating a lower level of interest in golf heritage than in golf in general, which may be relevant to whether women will want to join the historic, older, formerly male clubs.
It is possible extended membership at older men only clubs will have an effect on women only clubs in the same way as the opening of Rotary membership to women affected the Inner Wheel and Soroptimists. Course suitability for high handicap golfers, clubhouse facilities, team numbers and social activities are likely to be as relevant as membership rights. The likely changes to subscription levels, if spouses' rights of play were withdrawn, would also be a consideration. With lower participation, then women would remain minority stakeholders in any mixed golf club arrangements.
Following the Royal and Ancient's vote in 2014, several other historic clubs have also voted to accept women members on equal basis. They include Royal Troon in 2016, The Honourable Company in 2017, Royal Aberdeen in 2018, Panmure (Barry) in 2018 and Bruntsfield Links GS in 2018.
There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequal peoples.
Attributed to Thomas Jefferson and in variation to Aristotle but actually derived from Dr Anton Menger 1890.
Page updated 4th Nov 2014, 16th April 2017 and 11 Nov 2018