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HSBC's global head of sponsorship, Giles Morgan, weighs in on the R&A's gender debate

By John Huggan

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Critics have long decried the lack of female members in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, organizers of the world's oldest championship in the British Open. That group appears to have gained a notable supporter.
 
Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, made clear during his company's event in Abu Dhabi that the all-male membership stance could have repercussions, including financial ones.

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"It's not something we are going to hold a gun to their heads about. But the R&A are clear that it's a very uneasy position for the bank," said Morgan, whose employers are one of the Open's biggest corporate supporters. "We would like to see it solved so we don't keep talking about it. When you are showcasing one of the world's greatest tournaments it would be much more palatable if it were played where there was not a sense of segregation.
 
"I think things are moving," Morgan added. "They are doing a lot of research, asking a lot of sponsors and stakeholders over the last three or four months. They are acutely aware that things need to change and move on. What I do think they are doing right is spending some proper consultancy time looking at this rather than knee-jerking to a sort of populist decision."

 
Strong words, with obvious implications for the economic future of the Open, the R&A's primary source of income. Given that fact, it was no surprise that the St. Andrews-based organization was not slow in responding.
 
"We promised a period of reflection immediately after last year's championship and this process is on-going," said a spokesperson. "Naturally we have taken soundings within the game, and we will report the outcome of our deliberations in due course."

 
If Morgan's attitude is typical of what the R&A is hearing, potentially the first female members of golf's ruling body outside the U.S. and Mexico could be elected sometime before the 2016 Open at Royal Troon, the next all-male club on the championship rota. Money is talking and the R&A would appear to be listening.

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News & Tours

Explainer: Here's what you can and can't do on the green, and why those rules exist in the first place

By Ron Kaspriske

Sergio Garcia did not tap down spike marks on his putting line on Thursday at the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. But what if he had? And what's the big deal with tapping down spike marks, anyway?
 
To answer the first question: It's a violation of Rule 16-1a and comes with a two-shot penalty in stroke play (loss of hole in match play).


The tournament committee could have also disqualified Garcia if they felt he had gained a significant advantage by tapping down the spike marks. That would be considered a serious breach of the rules. The European Tour's Simon Dyson was disqualified at the BMW Masters in October after tapping down spike marks.

 
To answer the second question: It's a big deal because you're essentially improving your line of play (a violation of Rule 13-1) and making it easier for you to hole out. To quote Richard Tufts from his 1960 book The Principles Behind the Rules of Golf, "this simply means that the player must accept the conditions he encounters during play and may not alter them to suit his convenience." It would be like pressing down a channel from your ball's position to the hole so it can roll into the cup like a gutterball in bowling. Rules makers generally frown upon improving course conditions so you can score better. Remember that.

 
And on a more practical note, imagine how slow rounds would become if golfers were allowed to repair all the little marks and indentations on each green.
 
OK, so what CAN you do on a putting green on your line of putt? Here are six:
 
  1. You can remove loose impediments. Things such as sand, soil, stones, twigs, insects, and goose droppings. You can remove these things any way you want, provided you don't press anything down into the turf or test the surface.
  2. You can repair those little craters created when a ball hits the green.
  3. You can repair old hole plugs created when the superintendent's staff move the cup from location to another.
  4. You can place your putter down in front of your ball when you address it (remember, don't press down).
  5. You can touch the line in the process of measuring, lifting or replacing your ball or to remove a moveable obstruction such as a coin left on the green by the group in front of you.
  6. Once you putt out, provided you aren't aiding a fellow competitor with his or her putt, you can tap down spike marks, fix a damaged hole (sometimes a part of the circumference caves in) or push the hole liner back down (they sometimes get pulled up when the flagstick is removed.

And here's what you can't do:
 
  1. Repair any damage other than hole plugs or ball marks. This includes any indentations created by the 275-pound guy playing in the group in front of you.
  2. Touch your line of putt for any other reason than the ones listed above.
  3. Test the surface by rolling a ball, scraping or roughening the grass.
  4. Sweep away casual water, dew or frost.
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News & Tours

At Muirfield, the R&A continues to try to avoid discrimination discussion

By John Huggan

GULLANE, Scotland -- There was, as you'd expect, some stuff about the course and the facilities and the new technology. But long before Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A championship committee, concluded his lengthy and earnest remarks regarding the 142nd playing of the world's oldest golf event, the room was getting restless. There was, whether the all-male body that makes the rules of golf outside the U.S. and Mexico likes it or not, only one thing most of the assembled media wanted to talk about.

Women.

Or, to be more accurate, the lack of them in the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and in this week's host club, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Scoundrels . . . sorry, Golfers.

Related: One perfect GIF that sums up the R&A's position on gender issues

And it didn't take long for things to kick off. The second question asked of Peter Dawson, the R&A's chief executive, concerned the well-publicized absence this week of Scotland's First Minister, the suddenly morally outraged Alex Salmond. Salmond, leader of the independence-seeking Scottish National Party, has apparently just noticed that those of the female gender have never been members of either the HCEG (formed in 1744) or the R&A, which came into existence a decade later. Well spotted, sir.

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Photo by Getty Images

Anyway, Dawson, an old hand by now when it comes to this perennial issue, was ready with his prepared response.

"The whole issue of gender and single-sex clubs has been pretty much beaten to death recently," he said. "We understand that it is divisive. And it's a subject we're finding increasingly difficult, to be honest."

Related: A hole-by-hole tour of Muirfield

Disappointingly but predictably, Dawson then had nothing new to offer in this ongoing debate. Resorting to the arguments he has repeatedly used since he assumed his present job in 2000, the former executive for Grove Manufacturing, a company involved in the manufacturing of hydraulic cranes trotted out the same old defense of the indefensible.

"Single-sex clubs are in a very small minority in the U.K."

"They're perfectly legal."

"In our view, they don't do any harm."

"We think the right of association is important."

"We think they have no material affect on participation."

While three of those five assertions are indisputable, the other two are, at best, debatable. And Dawson, to his credit, acknowledged an "understanding" of the counter-view. But not much respect.

"Our natural reaction is to resist pressure from the media, politicians and interest groups, because we don't think they have very much substance," he continued. "But I'd like to stress we're not so insular as to fail to recognize the potential damage that campaigns like this can do to the Open. And it is our championship committee's responsibility to do what is best for the championship.

"In the last ten years, for example, we have put, as best I can estimate, about 30 million pounds into women's golf. That's what the Open's success brings with it. So it's not all bad."

Related: Get to know your British Open courses

Yes, yes, you could almost hear from many in the room: But what about the continuing blatant discrimination? How can any rules-making body do its job properly and at the same time exclude a well-qualified candidate because she doesn't go to the men's room? And what, said one lady, is the difference between men-only and whites-only?

"Oh, goodness me," said Dawson. "I think that's a ridiculous question, if I may say so. To compare racial discrimination or anti-Semitism with a men's golf club is frankly absurd."

On and on it went. Question after question; deflection after deflection.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of the whole, fractious affair was that, more than once, Dawson hinted that the question of gender would play a large part in the R&A's annual review of their cash cow.

Related: Who we're picking to win the Open Championship

For example, asked if he would accept that any governing body is hardly your typical all-male club and so should be subject to different rules regarding discrimination, the 64-year old Scot was again smart enough to dodge the thrust of the question.

"I think it's certainly beholden on us to ensure that our governance committees are representative of the world at large in golf," he responded. "We have taken some steps in that direction, but I'm sure there will be more to come."

And so it goes on: The pointed questions and the often-smug answers. Bottom line? Those in "the club" don't really care what anyone else thinks. They never have.

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News & Tours

One perfect GIF that sums up the R&A's position on gender issues

By Luke Kerr-Dineen

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Holding a British Open at Muifield, a male-only club, just months after Augusta National admitted its first female members was no doubt going to be the focus of much media attention. But luckily for the R&A, they already have a strategy to deal with these kinds of questions.

 
"Oh, goodness me, I think that's a ridiculous question, if I may say so," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said in response to a question asking the difference between racial discrimination, which has haunted the game in the past, and gender discrimination.

"There's a massive difference between racial discrimination, anti-Semitism, where sectors of society are downtrodden and treated very, very badly indeed. And to compare that with a men's golf club I think is frankly absurd. There's no comparison whatsoever."


Dawson went on to say that the R&A will "resist these pressures," and that they will address gender issues after the British Open.
 
Translation?

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News & Tours

Muirfield undergoes final preparations before the British Open comes to town

By John Huggan

There's still more than two weeks to go before golf's oldest and -- to almost everyone not born in the United States -- most important event tees-off, but already people are talking about the 142nd Open Championship. More specifically, the early chat has focused on the length of the long grass the world's best players can expect to find when they pitch up at Muirfield later this month.

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(photo by Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy got things going when he (mis)quoted defending champion Ernie Els. According to the world number two, the big South African was calling the rough on the famous East Lothian links "waist high" and "ridiculous." Trouble was, at the time McIlroy spoke out, Els was 24 hours from his tour of the course where he won the title back in 2002. When he did get the chance to clarify his position, the two-time Open champion said, "the set up is very similar to 1992 and 2002. The rough is good, the fairways are good and some of the holes have been lengthened."

As ever, Ernie is pretty much on the mark, even if he failed to mention everything the R&A have been getting up to on the course many regard as the finest links on the nine-strong Open rota.


After playing Muirfield exactly a week ago, I can confirm the overall conditioning is indeed exceptional. The greens were simply magnificent, rolling maybe a yard-and-a-half slower than they ideally will be two weeks hence. The fairways were a beautiful pale yellow color and running just fast enough to hint at what a fortnight of dry weather could bring before the championship starts. The ideal scenario of "firm and fast" is still more than possible.

And the infamous rough? Well, let's just say it's healthy enough without being completely out of control. Certainly, the famous comment made by Doug Sanders back in 1966 -- "you can keep the prize money if I can have the hay concession" -- isn't quite appropriate.

Not yet anyway.

Which is not to say everything about the course is as it should be. The R&A, whose public stance is always that the winning score in any Open is primarily a product of the weather leading up to and during the event, stand accused of some slightly underhand manipulation of Muirfield's traditional defenses.


A couple examples stand out. At the 365-yard 2nd hole, a bunker has been built just short and right of a putting surface that slopes steadily from right-to-left. The establishment claim is that the new addition is there so that a front-right pin position can be used; the more cynical view is that the hazard has been placed in such a spot simply to prevent any of the longer-hitters attempting to drive the green.

Whatever, the end result is that one of the most interesting and tempting scenarios has been removed from the list of possible ways to play this delightful hole. No matter the conditions or the position of the pin, it is now more than likely that the vast majority of competitors will play the hole in pretty much exactly the same way: iron off the tee, wedge to the green. Any incentive to try a different approach has been all but eliminated.

Even worse is what has gone on at the 377-yard 3rd hole. Traditionally, this semi-blind par-4 has required the tee-shot to be placed at least left-of-center to allow a look at the flag. Unfortunately, the ideal spot -- one your correspondent has been aiming at for the last four decades or so -- is suddenly covered in thick rough that reduced this mere mortal to a mindless hack back into play. By my estimation, around seven or eight yards of fairway have been eliminated, on both sides, left and right.


Combine that bit of sneakiness with the shifting of the right greenside bunkers closer to the putting surface and we have a hole that is sure to play harder than it ever has before. Could it be the clearly ridiculous (!) six under aggregate posted by Els back in '02 has the authorities worried that Muirfield might not be up to the challenge in these technologically-enhanced times? Just a thought.

Happily, other changes make more sense and are a lot less offensive. The extensions to the rear of the second and sixth greens and to the front right of the eighth green will add challenging and interesting pin positions. The new tee at the fourteenth offers up a superb vista and a thought provoking tee-shot. And, assuming nothing is to be done about the extraordinary distances leading players can now hit 3-woods never mind drivers, moving the championship tees back at the likes of the ninth, fifteenth and eighteenth is both inevitable and understandable.

So that's where Muirfield stands right now. The greens and fairways are in close to perfect condition. The famous bunkers remain just as forbidding and punishing. The rough is penal but manageable. And the links is 158-yards longer than it was 11 years ago. Now all the South East corner of Scotland needs is a spell of half-decent weather. No guarantees there of course.

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News & Tours

FAQ: Rory's Olympic mess


The 2016 Olympics will mark a big moment in the history of golf. The game will feature in sports' biggest event for the first time since 1908, when it was discontinued as an Olympic sport after 74 of 77 golfers in the field were from the U.S. (the other three were from Canada). But with a qualifying system specifically designed to work in players from a wide array of countries, that problem looks to be avoided, and golfers are surely relishing the chance of competing for a gold medal.

Unless you're Rory McIlroy. If you've been following the latest developments in his Olympic debacle, you'll know that not long ago the R&A said McIlroy might not have a choice about which country to play for in Rio, and would be forced to play for Ireland. If you haven't been following, we don't blame you. The whole saga's a little wonky and is turning into a major headache for McIlroy, who isn't playing well on top of it all and is surely not loving the added pressure. Here's a crash course on what's going on.

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So what's the deal with Rory then?

It's no secret that McIlroy is automatically going to qualify for the Olympics (unless he literally forgets how to play golf), and that he's from Northern Ireland, the predominantly Protestant country in the Island's north. But because Northern Ireland, unlike the Catholic Republic of Ireland to the south, remains a country within the United Kingdom, it doesn't have its own team, and as a result leaves its Olympians to choose either to represent Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland at the tournament.

For one reason or another, it's never been a huge issue before, probably due to the lack of truly high-profile athletes coming out of the country. But since emerging as golf's newest phenom and some say heir-apparent to Tiger Woods's throne, the popular McIlroy now finds himself squarely in the middle of a historically volatile issue, fueled by a variety of differing religious, social, national, and political beliefs.

Couldn't this have been sorted out already?

McIlroy's in a unique position for a couple of reasons. First, because golf isn't an inherently team sport like, say, soccer, these decisions don't come around very often. When they do, they're often easily avoided; Team Europe at the Ryder Cup, for example, or Team Great Britain and Ireland at the Walker Cup. Also, golf has no formal declaration period like in other sports, so McIlroy has been allowed to represent both Great Britain and Ireland in competition before.

Related: McIlroy And Life At The Top

In the 2011 Golf World Cup he played for Team Ireland, but again the reason why he remains eligible to play for either team in the Olympics is because on that occasion, Team Ireland represented both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and competed alongside other teams within Great Britain like Scotland, Wales, and England. By contrast, in the Olympics, Northern Ireland is technically a part of Team GB, not Team Ireland.

So what happens now?

It depends on who you ask. McIlroy has tried hard to tread softly, even walking back a statement he made in September when he said he's "always felt more British than Irish." He's maintained that he hasn't decided yet, says he won't play for Ireland again in the World Cup this year for fear of losing his ability to choose, and has openly talked about not playing in the Olympics at all.


McIlroy's friend and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who played alongside him for Ireland in the 2011 World Cup, has been publicly advocating for McIlroy to join him once more for Ireland at this year's World Cup, even if that prohibits them from playing for Team GB at the Olympics. More recently, there's a growing number of people within the R&A who say the decision should be taken out of McIlroy's hands altogether and would force him to play for Ireland because of his previous World Cup ties. McIlroy says he has a right to choose, and has threatened to not take part in the games if that's taken away.

Quite a mess indeed.

(Getty Images photo)

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News & Tours

In Europe, anchor ban met with little more than a shrug

By John Huggan

VIRGINIA WATER, England -- There were, as expected, no surprises. Almost six months on from their original announcement on the now notorious Rule 14-1b, the R&A today joined (simultaneously) with the USGA in confirming that the so-called "anchoring" of putters to any part of the body during a stroke will be deemed illegal starting January 1, 2016.

Related: Understanding the new ban better

"We know that not everyone will agree with our final decision," said chief executive Peter Dawson at a press conference held in the Ryder Cup room of the Wentworth clubhouse. "But we do hope that the care and love for the game that all have expressed through their participation in this process will facilitate acceptance of Rule 14-1b when it takes effect."

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Peter Dawson talks at Tuesday's press conference. (Photo: Getty Images)

In that respect, Dawson was on much firmer ground than his USGA counterpart, Mike Davis. Opposition and/or dissension during this whole process have largely been confined to the western end of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We had no feedback from people saying they would give up golf if long or belly putters were banned," commented Sandy Jones, chief executive of the British PGA. "Plus, we are fully supportive of the R&A as the rule-making body. We like this rule. It will do no harm to the game at any level. I just don't see anyone using them.

"It does seem to be more of an American problem, one that has a lot to do with the speed of the greens over there. Eliminating variables in the stroke is much more helpful when the greens are slick.

Related: Nine notable rule changes in golf history

"Plus, less than one percent of putter sales worldwide are long putters. So where is this big problem? (PGA of America president) Ted Bishop's comments were nonsense really. There is no evidence to support his view. I played with Ted last week at Sawgrass. I use a 32-inch putter and made some good ones with him watching. I told him he was going the wrong way with this thing. Maybe he should be banning the short putter."

Most European Tour players, it is safe to say, feel similarly.

"I agree with what the R&A are doing," said Italian Ryder Cup player, Francesco Molinari, nicely summing up the mood of the majority. "I think it's important that we swing all 14 clubs in the bag and not just 13 of them. I have never liked that guys could anchor their putters to any part of their bodies.

"What the R&A has done is a good compromise. If they had legislated on the clubs themselves, I'm not sure it would have worked. Even with a short putter it is possible to anchor it. So what they have done makes sense to me. Some may argue that they are a bit late in doing what they are doing, but I say it is never too late to do the right thing."

Which is not to say that absolutely everyone on the European Tour is 100 percent behind what Dawson called "the most controversial rule change for a long time."

"After 30 years, I'm not sure it is right to be having such a drastic effect on players who have used it their whole careers," contended leading coach Denis Pugh. "It's an arbitrary call. Having said, that, if we were starting tomorrow I'd rule that the putter has to be the shortest club in the bag and also have the lease loft. Then go play.

"So I can see that long and belly putters are 'wrong.' But they have been wrong for too long. Plus, I think they have overcomplicated things. I can see guys finding ways round this rule."

Related: New putters provide anchoring alternatives

As for those charged with policing will invariably be, in practice, the tiniest of adjustments, European Tour chief referee John Paramor was broadly optimistic about both the immediate future and the brave new putting world post-2016.

"With the all the information that has been forthcoming from the R&A, it isn't going to be too difficult for us to pass it on to the players," he said. "I think the vast majority of players currently using anchored strokes will end up using a method that does not require any judgment calls on our part. We have more than two years to iron out any problems before we get to that stage. So it won't be a problem.

"I can see a small number asking us if their adjustments are OK, but not many. It won't be a problem though. There are many other rules where we rely on the integrity of the players to guide us. I am always asking guys what they were trying to do or intending to do in certain situations. This rule is no different in that respect. Besides, if anyone is close to anchoring after making any adjustments, we have more than two years to have a word with them about it."

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News & Tours

With Muirfield on the horizon, the debate over all-male golf clubs rages on

By Alex Myers

Augusta National Golf Club waited until it was ready to have its first female members. Apparently, it will be up to the three all-male clubs in the British Open's rota of courses to do the same.

At a Tuesday press conference, the R&A's chief executive, Peter Dawson, made it clear that the governing body of golf for most of the world won't "bully" clubs into taking women members. In fact, he said he doesn't think it's the R&A's place to get involved.

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All-male clubs are once again a hot topic with this year's Open Championship being held at Muirfield, one of three courses used for golf's oldest major that still adheres to an all-male membership policy. The other two courses are Royal St. George's and Royal Troon.

Dawson noted that, "There is nothing wrong under UK legislation with a single-sex club as long as they behave under the equality act as far as guest access is concerned, which Muirfield certainly does."

Related: Get to know your British Open courses

Dawson went on to say, "Muirfield has a huge history when it comes to the Open Championship and this will be the 16th time that is has been played there, and who are we to say what they should do as they are behaving perfectly legally."

This conversation has also come to the forefront once again on the heels of the first Masters since Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were invited to be the first women members of Augusta National, something that club chairman Billy Payne addressed in his pre-tournament press conference:

"I hope the experience for Condi and Darla, as members of our club, has been every bit as rewarding and enjoyable for them over the last eight months as it has been for their fellow members," Payne said. "It's just awesome."

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It took 80 years for Augusta National to change its policy regarding women members, but it seems, at least, ostensibly, to be happy with the decision. Should Muirfield, Royal St. George's and Royal Troon follow suit?

Related: Augusta National still has plenty of rules

And that's just one question this conversation raises. If golf wants to continue to grow, does having one of its most prestigious events being played at a site that isn't inclusive of women send the right message? Just because it's legal, does that mean it's the right thing to do? Does the R&A, perhaps the sport's most powerful organization, deserve a say in the situation? And if so, should it intervene?

For now, it appears as if those questions will remain unanswered. As this year's Open approaches, though, don't expect them to go away.

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