|Phyllis Howie (Ladies Captain) and Janette Mair (Club Captain)|
By Rebecca McQuillan
Who says golf is a male bastion?
Not the members of West Kilbride golf club in Ayrshire, who have elected two females to posts traditionally held by men, including that of club captain.
Sixteen-year-old Mhairi McKay was made juniors captain last night at the thousand-member club, completing a trio of female office bearers. She joins club captain Janette Mair and women’s captain Phyllis Howie.
According to Ms Mair, the club has long been “ahead of the game” when it comes to equality, having brought in equal membership rights in 1997.
Ms Mair, who has been a member of West Kilbride for 50 years, said: “Equality is about being equal in every respect and involved in the running of the club; it’s not about trying to rule the roost.”
Other clubs have been forced to change their membership terms as a result of the Equality Act, which passed into law on October 1 and outlaws discrimination in mixed-sex clubs.
The sex discrimination provisions of the act do not apply where a club was formed as men-only or women-only.
The act requires clubs to end practices such as offering women cheaper “associate only” membership, disallowing them from playing on Saturday mornings or preventing them from entering a particular bar.
Yet some clubs fear the law could have the unintended consequence of dissuading women from playing, by requiring them to pay a higher subscription fee.
It comes at a time when male and female player numbers are already dropping and golf clubs are suffering as a result of the recession.
Currently 29,728 women have playing, as opposed to social, golf club memberships in Scotland compared to 177,120 men.
This represents an annual fall in playing membership from 2009 to 2010 of 4.19% for women and 2.71% for men.
Andy Salmon, Scottish golf development manager at the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association (SLGA), which aims to increase women’s participation, said: “It’s quite a bizarre situation that the net impact of the Equality Act will be to reduce the number of women in golf.”
Associate membership for women, as offered in some clubs, was cheaper but typically debarred women from attending the AGM or playing on Saturday mornings.
Due to the fact that male golfers typically outnumber women by a large margin, reducing the fee for men to the same level as women would be financially impossible for some clubs, according to Mr Salmon. Instead, many are raising the subscription rate for women.
Mr Salmon said: “Some clubs are really worried and some ladies are saying they may have to give up their membership.”
The SLGA fully supports women having the right to full membership but argues existing women members should be able to continue as associates for five years after the act was introduced.
However, Mr Salmon added: “In the long term, the Government would say, by having true equality in clubs you will attract a new generation of golfers who would have found two tiers of membership unpalatable. We hope that will happen.”
Ross Duncan, marketing manager of the Scottish Golf Union, said the organisation was encouraging clubs to innovate with the range of subscriptions they offered.
West Kilbride’s newest female office-bearer is one of 20 girls in the 130-strong juniors section.
Ms Howie has made it a priority to attract and keep more female players, and stressed the friendly, fun nature of the club.
While West Kilbride’s female membership accounts for 188 out of 980 members (18%), she said that some women, especially working mothers, found it difficult to justify paying an annual golf fee when they lacked time to play regularly.
Women at West Kilbride choose not to play on Saturday mornings.
Ms McKay added: “In other areas, men and women are equal, so why can’t golf clubs be the same?”