Martin Dempster does a super job setting the stage for the "frank exchange of views" session organized by the R&A for select reporters at Royal and Ancient Golf Club clubhouse.
While it would be wrong to suggest he was “buttered up” with a few easy questions – a proposal to outlaw anchoring, after all, could have all sorts of consequences for the game – Dawson’s assembled audience sat up straight almost in unison when it got round to the main topic of the day – single-sex golf clubs.
“The elephant in the room,” said Dawson, who quickly apologised to Global Golf Post correspondent Lewine Mair, the sole woman in attendance, in case he’d offended her.
I think it's too late at this point old chum. Besides, what reporter, male or female could resist the comments that followed.
Dawson said the R&A had started a “journey” with a re-organisation in 2004 – its governance committees, for example, now include representatives from other organisations – and that he believed the “temperature is changing” amongst members. “I completely understand the view that many people have that any kind of discrimination is a complete no-no,” he added. “My personal position is that I totally believe in equality, but I do also believe that there are times when men need to socialise with men and women need to socialise with women.”
The Guardian's Ewan Murray didn't sound like he bought Dawson's assertions considering the Royal and Ancient Golf Club has its own male-only policy to deal with before telling a host club what to do. He also included this from Chief Executive Dawson:
"To think that the R&A might say to a club like Muirfield, 'You are not going to have the Open any more unless you change your policy' is frankly a bullying position that we would never take," Dawson said.
"Muirfield has a huge history of the Open Championship, this will be the 16th time it has been played there and who are we to say what they should do because they are behaving perfectly legally?
Dawson even threw in shots at Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Augusta National, just in case you thought he was an equal opportunity grouch!
Rather depressingly, he felt the need for wriggle room. ‘I suppose that is the logical extension but I would add the caveat that, while having a small amount of women members would send out some positive messaging, it wouldn’t change anything in British golf,’ he said.
‘Here the Old Course is closed on Sundays and people walk their dogs on the links or play football. At Augusta they have 20-foot high fences and 24-hour security. So you think to yourself: “Who actually provides the greater access?”’
24-hour security to keep the little people out...wait, is he describing the R&A clubhouse at St. Andrews?
Dawson believes the issue of men-only clubs has been badly distorted by politicians and the media. ‘On the day Augusta announced its two women members, I remember Gordon Brown opportunistically standing up and saying: “If they can do it in South Carolina why can’t they do it in Scotland?”
‘People in the game just thought to themselves: “If he can’t even be bothered to research the American state where Augusta is situated, why should anyone listen?” Comments like that are not helpful. Reasoned debate will speed up the journey."