Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Let's tell these old dinosaurs that we women won't play their ancient game

Of all popular sports, golf has the biggest image problem. It's not just that many people below 40 regard it as a retirement hobby for flabby, fusty, upper middle-class, yellow diamond Pringled old farts.

It's also that so many of its governing bodies appear to comprise entirely of flabby, fusty, upper middle-class, yellow diamond Pringled old farts whose attitude to women golfers has not progressed beyond Bertie Wooster's; one can admire a pretty object as it strolls across a sun-dappled golf course, but such creatures are liable to spoil one's cocktails and conversation if they over-run the clubhouse afterwards.

Some of these modern day Gerties are rather spirited you know, and get rather fiery when presented with natural truths which, though self-evident, are difficult to prove. Such as, women aren't made for politics, or old women's faces aren't made for dinner parties.

How frustrating for these long contented fellows to find that they have been found wanting in the court of public opinion and accusations regarding their blissful ignorance are now making worldwide headlines.

They're used to being referred to as dinosaurs of course – water off a platypus's back. But the debate currently overshadowing the advent of the most prestigious golfing event in the world as their public image drops into Sepp Blatter territory must niggle.

Even the most complacent slacks-lover must accept there's a crisis when Alex Salmond, known for his ability to whip out a Saltire at lightning speed whenever there are Scottish cool-points up for grabs, knocks back an invitation to watch the British Open at a legendary Scottish course.

Muirfield might look spectacular on telly this weekend, but how many journalists will be there to count the women in the crowd, or to vox-pop attendees on the ban on female membership by the 260-year-old institution (that's the club, not the chairman)?

This isn't about 'bullying' as it's been described by the Royal and Ancient – British golf's central body. And if Muirfield hadn't been chosen to host the Open, it wouldn't be our business.

But selecting a male-only club for such a high-profile championship suggests the R&A are happy to imply they don't have a problem excluding half the population, the human sub-section who too often ruin men's pleasure and freedoms with their annoying unmale ways.

I dare say there are few men who haven't fleetingly longed for a return to a time when men were accepted by almost everyone as intellectually superior and socially more significant than women. Especially when their wives are trying to educate them about how the washing machine works.

Such secret fantasies are harmless. Most decent men acknowledge that a ban on women in any environment is unhealthy and embarrassing. And most decent male golfers (despite what some radio phone-ins might suggest, there are plenty) find the R&A's stance preposterous.

It's disheartening to note, after a century of fighting simply to be as respected as men in our chosen fields, how many British institutions are still dominated by an anti-female gut instinct, from the Appeal Court to the House of Commons to numerous sports.

John Inverdale's comment suggesting Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli is especially dogged because she isn't 'a looker' is just one recent example of how even the nicest men just aren't aware of a disrespectful chip in their DNA.

It's tiring and irksome but girls, we have to keep challenging these injustices, or the old bunch of dinosaurs will just be replaced by new ones. Time to take the gloves off. If that's okay with the boxing fraternity.

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