If Sue Shapcott encountered the same sign today that she did upon arriving at Royal St. George’s as a member of the 1988 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team, her reaction would have been dramatically different. As a teenager who was just there to play golf, Shapcott turned the other cheek to the insulting message that greeted the former European and Asian Tour player and all other visitors to and members of the host club for this week’s British Open.
No women need apply. “No dogs, no women,” Shapcott wrote Wednesday in the Daily News. “The sign in Royal St. George’s parking lot was unambiguous.”
The young Curtis Cup player was “oblivious” to the rampant discrimination that the message foretold, she told us Wednesday. “If I were there now, it would have been a big deal to me.
“I was 17 and, unfortunately, pretty ignorant to discrimination,” she said. “It just kind of rolled off me. I didn’t get angry at the time, I’m ashamed to say.”
The repellent signage was only the beginning of the indignities awaiting the U.K. and U.S. women vying for the women’s amateur golf equivalent of the Solheim Cup. The venerable club offered no teeing areas for women and, with a prohibition against female members, no locker room for the golfers to change.
“As the club pointed out,” Shapcott wrote,“ women were welcome to play — as guests, or spouses of male members. It was understood that a wife’s playing privileges died with her husband.”
Today, 23 years removed from GB&I’s victory over the Americans, and well into a new century, Royal St. George’s has made several changes to the course since the men last teed it up in a British Open in 2003. Shapcott described some of them, including the lengthening of some holes and the overall change from a par-71 to a par-70 layout.
What has not changed a whit in its 124-year history, the Phoenix golf instructor noted, is Royal St. George’s “insulting” discriminatory policies toward women. Sure, the sign is gone, she noted, but just because the overtly prejudicial message is missing does not mean that the suits who rule the roost at Royal St. George’s have gained enlightenment.
Though Britain’s culture secretary suggested, following the ’03 Open Championship that the Royal & Ancient Club stage future events only at clubs that did not discriminate, Shapcott observed that “the inequality complaints have gone unheard, and the British Open, a national treasure, will again be hosted at a club with no female members.”
The Ph.D. student at Arizona State University who’s researching why women golfers leave the game noted that the powers-that-be at Royal St. George’s claimed the club’s private status exempted it from having to allow women members. She pointed out the fallacy of that argument by noting that the exclusive enclave “benefits from revenue generated by television rights sold to the BBC — a network primarily funded by British tax payers of both sexes.”
Don’t count on the head honcho of the R&A to worry his pretty little head about such matters, though. R&A chief executive Peter Dawson memorably opined back in April that, “The fact that it’s male members-only is not something I’m overly concerned about.”
Disappointing. Dawson’s comment that granting membership to women was “tantamount to ‘social engineering,’” as the former Curtis Cupper wrote, disappointed Shapcott, who recognized why golfers like Rory McIlroy and other Open participants did not protest discriminatory policies. It’s up to the governing bodies to take stands against such blatant bigotry, she said.
“I still don’t understand why [R&A, PGA, and LPGA officials] who do have power don’t think it’s the position of sports to make a statement,” said Shapcott.
On the course, Phil Mickelson is one golfer who’s had to adjust his attitude about playing in the U.K. Read how links golf is really, really fun for the big lefty.