Five-time Irish champion and former Curtis Cup captain Claire Dowling (née Hourihane) has become the first Irishwoman to join the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
The former Woodbook legend, now an English Golf rules expert and a rules officia for the R&A at The Open since 2011, was one of seven women to accept an invitation to become an "ordinary member" of the club.
The Royal and Ancient publicly announced the identities of seven women who have accepted invitations to become honorary members — Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal (Princess Anne), Dame Laura Davies, Renée Powell, Belle Robertson MBE, Lally Segard, Annika Sorenstam and Louise Suggs — on Tuesday.
However, while it is the policy of the R&A not to announce the names of new members, male or female, a letter from club secretary Peter Dawson was leaked to GeoffShackelford.com, revealing that Mrs Dowling, Angela Bonallack (UK), Diane Dunlop-Herbert (Canada), Patsy Hankins (New Zealand), Marthan Lang (USA), Carol Semple Thompson (USA) and Marion Thannhauser (Germany) had recently accepted the "first set of invitations to become Ordinary Members" of one of golf's most exclusive clubs.
A four-time Curtis Cup player and former British Strokeplay champion, Claire Dowling moved from Birmingham, where she remains honorary member of Copt Heath, to Budleigh Salterton in Devon in early 2014 and is now a member of East Devon, which is more than 500 miles from St Andrews.
Peter Dawson was briefly a member of Copt Heath Golf Club and would have known of her through that connection as well as through her playing record and her work as a referee for Engish Gof and The Open.
Her appointment follows the vote last September in favour of allowing women members for the first time in the club’s 260-year history.
A further eight ordinary members wil be fast tracked into the club in the next three years in a move that is seen as vital if big name sponsors are now to withdraw their support for The Open.
Commenting on today's officiai announcement George Macgregor OBE, Captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, said, “It is an honour and a privilege for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club to welcome these remarkable women as honorary members.
"The Princess Royal enjoys a strong bond with Scotland and has shown great energy and commitment to developing sport through her work in the Olympic movement.
“This is an historic day for the Club and we could not be more proud also to welcome women who have distinguished themselves in golf over many years and have been great players and champions. They are extremely worthy additions to our roll of honorary members and will become ambassadors for the Club as they have been for the sport of golf throughout their careers.”
The Royal and Ancient issued a press release on its new members:
The Princess Royal follows Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of Edinburgh, The Duke of York and The Duke of Kent in becoming an honorary member of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
Having herself competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, The Princess Royal is a member of the International Olympic Committee and was a member of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games. The Princess Royal is a Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle in Scotland and has been Patron of the Scottish Rugby Union since 1986.
In September, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s members voted by an 85% majority to admit women as members for the first time in its 260-year history. Today’s announcement follows that historic ballot and, in addition to the honorary members, a number of women have been admitted as members of the Club with more set to follow in the coming months.
Dame Laura Davies, is widely regarded as Britain’s greatest female golfer having won four Major Championships and 79 events around the world. She won the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale in 1986 and the US Women’s Open in 1987. She played in every Solheim Cup match from 1990 to 2011 and is the leading all-time points scorer. A former world number one, Laura Davies was the first non-American to finish at the top of the LPGA money list and also won the LET Order of Merit a record seven times. In 2014 she was appointed DBE for her services to golf and in July 2015 she will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame at a ceremony in St Andrews.
Renée Powell played in more than 250 events, having joined the LPGA Tour in 1967. In 1979, she became the first woman to be a head professional at a golf course in the United Kingdom, at Silvermere, near London. After leaving the LPGA Tour in 1980, she developed inner-city youth golf programmes in the United States and in 1995 became the first African-American female Class A member of The PGA of America and the LPGA. In 2003, Renée Powell received the Professional Golfers' Association of America’s First Lady of Golf award and four years later the inaugural Rolex For the Love of the Game Award. In 2008 she was made an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) by the University of St Andrews.
The great Scottish amateur golfer Belle Robertson won the British Ladies Amateur Championship in 1981 and the Scottish Ladies Close Amateur Championship on seven occasions. She represented Great Britain and Ireland in seven Curtis Cups and was part of the first team to win the match on American soil in 1986. She captained the team twice. Belle Robertson was voted Scottish Sportswoman of the Year on four occasions and Woman Golfer of the year three times. In 1973, she was appointed MBE for services to golf and was named as one of the 50 inaugural members of the Scottish Sport Hall of Fame in 2002.
Lally Segard (née Vagliano) is one of France’s greatest golfers, winning the British Girls’ Championship in 1937 and, as Vicomtesse de Saint-Sauveur, 14 international titles including the British Ladies’ Amateur in 1950. As President of the Women’s Committee of the World Amateur Golf Council (now the International Golf Federation) she helped found the Espirito Santo Trophy, the women’s World Amateur Team Championship. She was France’s non-playing captain from the inaugural event in 1964 until 1972. Lally Segard is an Officer of France’s National Order of Merit and a Commander of the Order of Sporting Merit.
One of the most successful golfers in history, Annika Sorenstam is a former world number one who won 89 events around the world, including ten Major Championships. She won the Rolex Player of the Year award on eight occasions and represented Europe in the Solheim Cup eight times between 1994 and 2007, before serving as vice-captain for the victorious European side in 2011 and 2013. Annika Sorenstam was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003 and retired from competitive golf in 2008 to focus on establishing the Annika Academy and the Annika Foundation, which support aspiring junior golfers.
Louise Suggs, a co-founder and former President of the LPGA, won the US Women’s Amateur in 1947 and the British Ladies’ Amateur in 1948, before turning professional and winning 58 events, including 11 Major Championships. She was an inaugural inductee into the LPGA Hall of Fame, established in 1967, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, given each year to the most accomplished first-year player on the LPGA Tour, is named in her honour. In 2007, she received the Bob Jones Award, given by the USGA in recognition of great sportsmanship in golf.