Tradition v Discrimination

The British Open was recently played at the exclusive Royal St George's Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent.  The Club has attracted some bad press because it is perhaps too exclusive; women are not allowed to become members.


Women can play on the course and use the facilities as visitors but there are no female changing facilities and a lack of women's tees on the course (for those not in the know, apparently a woman's tee is closer to the hole).  There has been uproar from many feminists about the decision to only allow men to become full members.  Whilst it may seem unfair, it is important to bear in mind that places like Royal St George's are so exclusive they practically exclude the entire population of the UK.  There are only 700 members, the membership fees are several thousands of pounds, you need approval from 14 members to join and then there is a two year waiting list. 


The decision to remain a male-only membership may be controversial but it is not illegal.  The Equality Act 2010 treats service providers and associations as different concepts.  A service provider is "a person concerned with the provision of a service, goods or facilities to the public or a section of the public, whether or not for payment".  A service provider can be an individual, business or a public body.  This means that a golf club, open for anyone to play on the course, cannot exclude certain members of the public from playing there.  However, different rules apply for an association, where you have to be a member to access the facilities.  In this respect, the club must have 25 or more members, progression to become a member must be regulated by a club constitution and the club cannot be a trade union or employers' association.  It is these exceptions which allow organisations such as golf and private members clubs to retain their exclusivity.