• Holidaymakers (from left) Anna Dietrich, Pascale Reinhard and Jeanette Siehenthiler after their round of golf at Muirfield Golf Club. (PA Images)Source: PA Images
One of the world's oldest games, golf, has a long and torrid history of gender inequality, excluding women from playing the sport and from club membership. This week, one of Scotland's most historic golf clubs announced that women could join its ranks. But is it a case of too little too late?
Sam Carroll

15 Mar 2017 - 3:32 PM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2017 - 3:32 PM

One of the most popular and enduring sports with over 60 million playing annually, golf, also has a long history of gender-based discrimination, as women are currently banned from playing on a number of golf courses around the world. 

But Scotland's historic Muirfield club made the headlines this week, announcing news that it will now allow female members, reversing a previous ruling against gender equality on the private Edinburgh course. 

The news represents a significant step forward in the move towards achieving full gender equality in sports. 

"This is a significant decision for a club which was founded in 1744 and retains many of the values and aspirations of its founding members," club captain Henry Fairweather said at a conference announcing the change. 

"We look forward to welcoming women as members who will enjoy, and benefit from, the great traditions and friendly spirit of this remarkable club."

The members-owned club held an initial vote in 2016 that failed to reach the required two-thirds majority to allow women.

Were it not for the governing body of golf in the UK banning the club from hosting The Open Championship - one of the biggest tournaments in the sport - the club may have upheld the 2016 decision to-date. Not wanting to lose the tournament for good, the club decided on a recount with 80.2 percent voting in favour of changing their membership policy.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, who referred to the first vote as "simply indefensible", took to Twitter on to show her approval this week.

While the change in policy is a significant step forward, there remain a number of clubs that still refuse to admit women, with some going as far as to ban them from the premises, with Illinois in the United States seemingly a haven for all-male clubs with four courses.

The Black Sheep Golf Club, located to the west of Chicago, lists its men-only membership as a part of the club's 'uniqueness' when describing the course on their site.

"The club is a male-only membership with special playing privileges for sons and sons-in-laws of members."

'No women allowed': Says who?

Mary, Queen of Scots, who reigned over Scotland from 1542 to 1567 was known for her fondness of golf, so much so that she was reported to have been ridiculed for playing it too soon after her husband Lord Darnley passed away in the final year of her rule.

According to a dissertation by Tracy J.R. Collins, in 1902, Scottish judge Lord Moncrieff suggested that women should drive the ball no further than "70 or 80 yards" because "the posture and gestures required for a full swing are not particularly graceful when the player is clad in female dress", suggesting that a woman's focus should be on fashion rather than the game.

In 1946 the Royal Liverpool's club secretary faced the press, stating that "no woman has entered the clubhouse and, Praise God, no woman ever will" after they refused entry to the wife of three-time British Champion Sir Henry Cotton, Toots.

Progress on the course

Things started to change in the 1972 when the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) debuted the Colgate-Dinah Shore tournament, a tournament in which the winning prize was $US20,000 - five times higher than anything that had gone before.

Nancy Lopez won five tournaments in a row in 1978 as women started to become recognised for their playing ability.

It wasn't until 2012 however that real change started to occur, with the famous Augusta National Golf Club opening its doors to women after mounting public pressure, followed two years later by the Royal Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in 2014.

In 2016 the United States Golf Association elected their second ever female president, Diana Murphy, who was voted in to serve a second one-year term in February this year.

In her address after being elected for her second term, Murphy discussed her vision for the game, including her efforts to bring more girls into the game via the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program.

"...reaching just 5,000 girls in 2009 to more than 60,000 in 2016." Murphy said in her statement after her reelection.

"And that has a direct impact on our own events. In 2016, 128 past or present Girls Golf participants competed in a USGA championship."

Locally there are no men-only golf clubs, as the fame looks set to continue to move, albeit very slowly, towards equality. 

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