By Ron Sirak
When the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews announced last month it would hold a Sept. 18 vote on whether to admit female members for the first time in its 260-year history -- a measure strongly backed by the organization's leadership -- one particular nuance of the process was noted. According to club bylaws, there are no proxies; current members must be present at the fall meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland to cast a ballot.
In the ensuing weeks, supporters of expanding the Royal and Ancient membership to women have become concerned that the opposition might stack the meeting to defeat the measure. Their nervousness has risen to the point where, according to multiple sources who spoke with GolfDigest.com, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is exploring a bylaw change that would allow the 2,400 members to vote remotely by email or standard mail.
Part of supporters' uneasiness stems from the fact a 75-percent majority is needed to allow entry of women. The high threshold makes it even more imperative, in their view, that remote voting of some sort be allowed.
Asked about the matter, a spokesman for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club said, "Members from around the world have expressed the desire to be part of this September's historic vote. The General Committee is investigating a change to the club's rules to allow postal votes to be taken on particularly important issues such as this one so that every member can have the opportunity to be involved."
While it is difficult to believe the Royal and Ancient leadership would have taken such a public stance in favor of female membership without being confident the motion would pass, exploring the bylaw change on voting falls into the better-safe-than-sorry camp. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club has a global membership, including many Americans, and only a fraction typically make the trip for the Fall Meeting each year. Members of clubs closest to St. Andrews, such as Muirfield, which hosted last year's British Open and has an all-male membership, are better able to attend the event -- and perhaps influence the vote.
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