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.
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.