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.
"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.