Brennan: First Augusta for women, now R&A ups the ante

In this Aug. 5, 2007, file photo, Lorena Ochoa, of Mexico, plays a shot off the first fairway during the Women's British Open golf tournament on the Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews, Scotland. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, an all-male bastion since its founding 260 years ago, announced on Tuesday it has admitted several female members.

After 260 years of discriminating against 51% of the population, Scotland’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club decided Tuesday that it was time to enter the 20th century before too much more of the 21st goes by.

After voting in September to be able to invite women to join, the Royal and Not-so-Ancient outdid itself by not just inviting one woman to join, or two or three, but reportedly up to 14 – including seven honorary members, some of them quite famous, and several more “ordinary” members who will pay dues and actually get more privileges.

At this rate, adding 14 women every 260 years, the Royal and Not-so will reach 100 female members by the year 3835.

In all seriousness, this was a momentous day in the long and embarrassing history of golf’s ridiculous treatment of women and girls. The private club, which has a membership of 2,400, announced that Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, Britain’s Princess Anne and Americans Louise Suggs and Renee Powell were among the seven women given honorary memberships.

Suggs, 91, one of the founders of the LPGA tour, won 11 major championships. Powell, 68, was the second African American to play on the LPGA tour.

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Carol Semple Thompson, 66, one of the United States’ greatest amateur champions, was among several others invited to become a regular member of the club, according to Jacksonville.Com.

The Royal and Not-So’s announcement of its new members comes 2½ years after Augusta National Golf Club, America’s most venerable course and host of the Masters, named its first two female members, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore. Last year, IBM chief executive officer Ginni Rometty became the club’s third woman member.

Not that these two clubs would be competitive or anything, but the Royal and Not-So certainly showed the green jackets a thing or two about busting loose from decades (or centuries) of discrimination in a huge way. Augusta got there first, which was crucial and historic, but the Royal and Not-So has opened the figurative floodgates.

Your turn, green jackets.

For decades, these majestic private golf clubs, and others like them, gave no thought whatsoever to keeping women and girls on the outside looking in. Gradually, however, as golf began hemorrhaging participants – it was too expensive, too hard, too elitist and it took too long to play – the powers that be began to realize that their love of sexism was trumping their love of capitalism. High-profile male-only clubs were holding up a big stop sign that had a chilling effect on girls’ and women’s participation when golf needed them the most.

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For the game to grow, this had to stop.

Not everyone has gotten the message. There are still a number of anti-women golf courses around the country whose members probably dug in their heels just a bit deeper upon hearing the news from Scotland. These are private clubs that don’t host public events, so they certainly can do what they want.

Their message, though, is just awful: Because the golf course is where so many business deals get done, members of these clubs are telling the women and girls in their lives that they have no problem denying them access to one of the nation’s most traditional corridors of power.

One of these discriminatory clubs is Burning Tree in Bethesda, Md., Which counts among its members Speaker of the House John Boehner. It’s not a good omen when a crusty old golf course in Scotland shows the U.S. Speaker a thing or two about women’s rights.

Then again, give him another 260 years and he’ll probably come around.

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