Men’s and Women’s Golf in Historic Merger

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

It has been announced that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) of St Andrews, Scotland, will merge with the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) of Great Britain and Ireland with effect from 1 January, 2017.

This is an historic move, given that the R&A, which organises the prestigious men’s golf championship ‘The Open’, and controls the rules of golf, in association with the United States Golf Association, only admitted women to its ranks in its 260 year-old history in September 2014.

The LGU comprises England Golf, Scottish Golf, the Golf Union of Wales and the Irish Ladies Golf Union and organises a number of women’s events, including the Curtis Cup.

Putting women golfers on an equal footing with their male counterparts has long been overdue in a world in which women are no longer considered to be ‘second class’ citizens but enjoy equal rights with men. It is not that long ago that women were generally allowed to join Golf Clubs in the United Kingdom. Following the initiative of the R&A admitting women members, the Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent, the United Kingdom, in its 128-year old history, abandoned its men only rule only on 4 March, 2015!

Furthermore, the merger of these two golf governing bodies, the R&A and LGU, is probably the result of golf being reinstated as an Olympic sport in this year’s Summer Olympics, after it was dropped from the Olympic programme following the 1904 Summer Olympics, which were held in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States.

At the forthcoming Games in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, men’s and women’s individual stroke-play tournaments will be played on a new course built specially for these events. The men are due to play from 11-14 August and the women from 17-20 August. Golf will again feature in the 2020 Summer Olympics, due to be held in Tokyo, Japan.

The merger between the R&A and the LGU also makes sense, from a practical point of view, allowing the two bodies to capitalise on the strengths of the two organisations for the wider benefit and development of the sport; and also from an equality point of view, bearing in mind that the Olympic Charter prohibits any kind of discrimination in sport, including questions of gender, as one of the fundamental principles of ‘Olympism’!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic, Author and CAS Member and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’