Two of the venerable institutions at the heart of St Andrews found themselves in the full glare of the international media spotlight this week after the university principal publicly criticised the R&A Golf Club’s men-only policy.
In an interview in the New York Times, published on the eve of this week’s Open Championship, Louise Richardson, the university’s first female principal, spoke of being unable to take a university donor to dinner in the club because women were not admitted and of another occasion when club members, in an attempt at humour, waved their ties in her face to remind her she was not a member.
Principal Richardson’s two immediate predecessors received honorary membership of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
The club’s 2500 members will vote on September 18 on whether to admit women following pressure from major sponsors.
When she was appointed in 2009, Ms Richardson, a keen golfer since childhood, said she had considered the club’s membership policy as a “nettlesome distraction to more important issues” but now saw it as a hindrance to fundraising, a key part of her job.
She pointed out that she successfully ran St Andrews University, currently ranked third in the UK and an organisation of 10,000 people supporting 9,000 jobs, yet she was not allowed in the clubhouse 600 yards from her home.
She had been invited on occasions when women were welcomed - “I think once a month on a Sunday, wives that are well-behaved are invited to lunch” - but has always responded that she would not eat in the clubhouse until women could enter.
A spokesman for the university said the principal had no say in the timing of the publication of the article, with the interview having taken place in May.
He said Ms Richardson had not sat down and made a conscious decision to make an attack on the R&A and the comments came out of an honest and open conversation with a journalist with a proven track record.
“Gender issues are a matter of conscience for Louise Richardson,” he said.
No comment was forthcoming from the R&A.
The Royal and Ancient Club was one of game’s governing bodies until 2004 when the R&A was created as a separate entity.