Commentary

Women still have a bad lie

Updated: August 21, 2012, 4:03 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Watson/ElsGetty ImagesBubba Watson's green jacket no longer stands for a golf club that won't admit women. But the Claret Jug, held by Ernie Els, still symbolizes a view of golf that excludes women.

A polite golf clap please for Augusta National Golf Club, which has finally admitted two females as members -- Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore -- and only 92 years after the 19th Amendment!

But it stirs up more questions than it answers. To wit:

1. Where will they tee off, since there are no women's tees?

2. Will that awful green jacket come in a woman's fit?

3. NOW can Augusta get a beer-cart girl?

Oh, and one last one:

4. How ancient does the Royal and Ancient Golf Club feel now? They have 2,500-some members and none of them are women.

While the Royal and Ancient no longer governs all golf outside the U.S. and Mexico (it turned those duties over to an ancillary group known simply as the R&A), it still gets to say who gets into its club -- and women still are personae non gratae.

Imagine that. The Royal and Ancient has somehow made Augusta National look like Nancy Pelosi's book club.

"The Rules of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews specify a male membership," Royal and Ancient media director Malcolm Booth emailed yesterday, "and this policy remains a matter for our Members to determine."

Hey, buddy. Do you have the year?

Does this seem odd to you? The home club of the governing body that decides how most women in the world play golf doesn't have a single woman in it?

"That's a little archaic," says Debbie Waitkus of Women in the Golf Industry.

That's a LOT archaic. Where's the next meeting, Stonehenge?

Yes, Augusta National was a few decades late to this dance. You can't invite the world through your gates once a year, melt their Visas by selling them millions of dollars' worth of sweaters and skirts and video games, talk about "growing the game of golf" and yet not allow a woman to be a member. How are you going to grow a game while discriminating against half of the world's population?

But the Royal and Ancient should be compelled to do it. How can a group this large and this important -- more important to golf, even, than Augusta National -- be so backward? Who's running the meetings, Old Tom Morris?

"It's hardly life-threatening, is it?" R&A secretary Peter Dawson said once on the subject.

No, it's not life-threatening, so why not do it?

The Royal and Ancient clubhouse -- brass buttons and Barbasol up and down -- isn't even attached to a golf course that they might be afraid women would slow up. The course that's 10 feet outside the front door -- St. Andrews -- is owned and run by the town of St. Andrews. It has nothing to do with the Royal and Ancient. What are they afraid of, having to wear pants?

This is not some group of cavemen knuckle-draggers, like The Old Elm Club in Highland Park, Ill., where women can come on the property one day a year to buy Christmas gifts from the clubhouse. (Staff lays down a red carpet from the parking lot to the pro shop so their feet never actually touch club soil.)

The Royal and Ancient won't budge on women. In 1996, when Judy Bell became president of the USGA -- America's governing body for golf -- she was not granted R&A membership, as every other president before her was.

The Royal and Ancient: We'll take your dollars and pounds, just not your mothers and sisters.

The Royal and Ancient's only close call with the 20th century didn't even come until the 21st century when, in 2003, a member of Parliament introduced a bill that would ban gender discrimination in clubs over 25 people. Two conservative members blocked the measure. That's about when the lawyers stepped in.

This has to change.

I have no problem with private clubs setting their own rules, as long as they don't then turn around and profit from, or govern, the very people they're excluding. You want to run an all-male club where everybody gets naked, coats themselves in rubber cement and throws each other against the wall? Knock yourself out.

But golf is the greatest game in the world, and nobody should be kept from playing it. Don't believe in men-only clubs. Don't believe in men-only tee times. Don't believe "Nice putt, Alice" needs to be anything but a compliment.

Listen up, Royal and Ancient: The time has come to be a little more royal and a little less ancient.

P.S.: Answers to the three questions posed at the top:

1. There are only two tee boxes at Augusta National: Masters tees and member tees. Women, who have always been able to play Augusta as guests, generally tee off from the front of the member tee boxes. There will be no new tee boxes for women, according to a club spokesman.

2. Yes, Rice and Moore will get green jackets and "the female form will be taken into account in the sewing of the jackets," according to a club spokesman.

3. Yes, Augusta National will get a beer-cart girl -- soon as it takes in Michael Moore.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com