Much will be made this week about the first appearance of the British Women’s Open at the Old Course and of the admitting of ladies to the R&A Clubhouse. It is, however, not quite the same thing as admitting a woman at Augusta.
The difference is that, unlike American courses, St. Andrews (and indeed, many Scottish courses) is owned by the town. Calling the course home are a number of clubs, including the R&A, the St. Andrews Golf Club, the “New” Club, the Thistle, the 19th Hole, the St. Regelus Ladies Golf Club, and the Ladies Putting Club of St. Andrews, which plays on the nearby Himalayas course. Each club organizes players, holds competitions and stakes out a claim to tee times.
So the R&A’s men’s only restrictions don’t have any real effect on the course. Lots of people play there who aren’t members of the R&A.
Unlike men’s only clubs like Burning Tree, women have been playing at St. Andrews for centuries. Mary, Queen of Scots played there back in the 1500s. (Her golf habit factored into her ultimate demise, as her subjects were distraught that she was playing golf while she should have been mourning for her husband.)
In more recent history, the Scottish Ladies Championship was first played there in 1903, and has returned on eight occasions. The St. Rule Trophy event has been held at St. Andrews since 1984. There has been a St. Andrews’ Junior Ladies Open since 1989.
It’s significant that this is the first tournament at St. Andrews that includes professional women. But its not really breaking any new ground for women’s rights.