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Royal & Ancient separates rules role from club
by Associated Press

LONDON (AP) -- The Royal & Ancient golf club is changing its structure in a move which could create a larger role for women.

The R&A, which governs the game everywhere but the United States and Mexico, is separating its private members' club from its commercial and rule-making role.

The 2,500-member private club in St. Andrews, Scotland, will retain its all-male membership, R&A secretary Peter Dawson said Thursday.

Founded in 1754, the club has never had a female member.

Dawson will continue to oversee the club, and the commerical and governing arms -- and a new charitable foundation.

He said he did not foresee the private club accepting female members, but the new structure could allow women access to the governing body and commercial side.

Vivien Saunders, a former British Open women's champion who had threatened to sue the R&A over its all-male membership, welcomed the reorganization.

Saunders has openly questioned the right of the R&A -- a private club -- to impose its rules on nonmembers.

``I think it's a good thing because the governing body will now have to modernize and except women,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``They are going to have to become a democratic and transparent organization.''

Dawson said ``good business practices and the need for a corporate structure'' made the changes necessary. He said the private club was unlikely to change.

``There is nothing in this announcement that pertains to the 2,500 members,'' Dawson said. ``And that won't change until members decide to change it.''

The male-only membership at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, sparked debate in the United States. Dawson said he has received few complaints about the R&A's membership.

``We're not actually feeling any heat,'' Dawson said. ``If we can be criticized, it's for making rules for men and women when we don't have women members. The way is now open for more people from outside the R&A.''

Under present rules, members of the R&A's dozen committees come only from the private club's membership. Some women are on committees in an advisory, non-voting status.

Dawson offered no specifics but said it ``might be desirable'' to diversify the committees that govern the game. Changes are expected to be in effect by the end of September.

``I would imagine that would be the case in the future,'' Dawson said. ``There is the aim in what we have done to make the committees represent the game as a whole as that regards gender, age.''

R&A membership is secret and by invitation only. Candidates must be proposed and seconded by existing members. Dawson said the club looked for members ``with experience and credentials to serve the game of golf.''

Four months ago Labor Party parliamentarian Parmjit Dhanda introduced a bill outlawing sexual discrimination in private clubs with more than 25 members. That would include the R&A.

The bill failed to pass -- blocked by two Conservative Party members -- but could be reintroduced in the new Parliamentary session in the fall.

Saunders, who holds a doctorate in psychology and an MBA degree, believes she has all the credentials to join the R&A. She said she had asked R&A captain John Whitmore to recommend her for membership.

``I believe the whole reaction and changes (at the R&A) are due to my request to be put up for membership,'' she said.

Saunders said she complained about the R&A's membership policy in a recent letter to Prince Andrew, fourth in line to the British throne and a son of Queen Elizabeth II.

Prince Andrew is a member of the R&A.

``I pointed out in the letter than under current rules his mother and sister would be barred from joining,'' Saunders said.

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