Augusta National’s descision to accept women as members for the first time will put the leading ‘men only’ clubs on this side of the pond back in the uncomfortable glare of the pubic spotlight.
But will the likes of Portmarnock, Royal Dublin or Open Championship hosts Muirfield follow suit or risk becoming surplus to requirements in the eyes of potential sponsors when it comes to modern professional sport?
In Ireland, there is no chance that Portmarnock or Royal Dublin will form part of a possible Irish Open rota as long as public money is required to stage the only European Tour event held on this island.
And it now remains to be seen how the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, which is the oldest golf club in the world, is received by world opinion when it hosts the Open Championship next year.
Augusta National has moved from the 19th into the 21st century by accepting former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and businesswoman Darla Moore as the first female members in its 80-year history.
Club chairman Billy Payne did not directly mention the women’s issue in a statement issued by the club yesterday, though he did welcome them to the “Augusta National family”, which has been a patriarchy until now.
“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome Secretary Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore as members of Augusta National Golf Club. We are fortunate to consider many qualified candidates for membership at Augusta National. Consideration with regard to any candidate is deliberate, held in strict confidence and always takes place over an extended period of time. The process for Condoleezza and Darla was no different.
“These accomplished women share our passion for the game of golf and both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets when the Club opens this fall.
“This is a significant and positive time in our Club’s history and, on behalf of our membership, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome them and all of our new members into the Augusta National family.”
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews remains a men only golf club, re-organised in 2004 to separate the governance of the game from its activities as a private members club for men only.
Women can now make the decisions that change the rules of the game yet “The R and A” may come under increasing commercial pressure if it persists in staging the world’s biggest tournament at venues that staunchly resist calls for them to accept women members.
The R and A relies on the Open to fund its many activities and the commercial success of the Open is crucial. Like Augusta National, which has sponsors it must keep happy, the Open organisers are becoming more reliant on “patrons” when it comes to staging the event.
The R and A’s Chief Executive, Peter Dawson, has in the past fended off question about the Royal and Ancient’s men only policy as a media driven debate that interests no-one within the game.
“It is not a life and death situation,” he said nine years ago. “It is a game, after all. People play it and have fun. Men’s and women’s golf coexists extremely well.”
Hitting the Open in the pocket might change attitudes at St Andrews.
Sponsors such as Mastercard, Rolex or HSBC are unlikely to enjoy becoming part of a gender discrimination debate over the next 10 months.
Augusta National also has commercial interests to keep happy and that issue will no go away with the acceptance of two high powered women as members of its exclusive club. Whether others follow suit remains to be seen, Change, though, has not been high on their agenda to this point.