Royal Burgess, the oldest golfing society in the world, scrapped proposals this week to admit women members after less than a third of its membership supported it in a referendum.

Royal Burgess, the Edinburgh club which has been a male bastion since its formation in 1735, canvassed its membership over changing its stance.

But less than 30% of those eligible to vote were in favour of allowing women to join their ranks, with “no further action” planned over the issue.

A move to welcome women by the Royal Burgess, one of only ten royal golf clubs Scotland, would have brought pressure to bear on the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to follow suit, after this year’s Open Championship at Muirfield took place against a backdrop of controversy due to its men-only policy.

However, results of the Royal Burgess poll among just over 600 members eligible to vote have been revealed privately to members on the club’s website after the referendum period closed last weekend.

"The Scotsman" has learned that the move to break down the male-only barriers at the Society, which was founded in 1735, is no longer being considered.

It is believed that 418 votes were cast in the referendum, which only took place after gaining narrow support - 69 votes to 64 - at an informal members’ meeting at the end of October.

That represented a turn-out of 69%, with members answering a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the “possible change to our rules to allow ladies admission to our Society.”

Of those who took part in the poll, 43.3% voted ‘yes’ but a ‘no’ vote of 56.7% meant that only 29.8% of the members eligible to vote were in favour of the change.

The move required support from at least 50% of those balloted for the possible change to the club’s rules to then come under consideration at the next AGM.

There, it would have needed to receive a two-thirds majority for women to be admitted to the capital club.

Revealing the referendum result to members, club captain John Jarvie has admitted on the website that the matter is no longer up for consideration, stating:

“Council have therefore determined that they will take no further action.”

It is not the first time that the subject of admitting women members has been raised at Royal Burgess, whose members include Jack Nicklaus, only to be quickly dismissed.

It is understood an ad hoc committee had previously “researched the subject of girls and ladies’ membership” on the back of a new mini section being approved at the 2012 AGM.

But, although a referendum of all eligible members of the society was recommended, the council at the time decided that no further action should be taken.

It is believed that an annual rates bill of £38,000 – the society had its rates relief lifted by the City of Edinburgh Council in 1998 due to its single-sex status – was part of the reason the matter was raised once again.

However, the referendum result comes on the back of some members threatening to resign if women were permitted membership.

“Ladies caused no end of issues,” claimed one existing member at the aforementioned October meeting.

Graham Callander, the general manager of Royal Burgess, said yesterday that the referendum was an internal matter for the club, and it would be making no comment.

Shona Malcolm, chief executive officer of the Ladies’ Golf Union, the encompassing body for ladies’ amateur golf in Britain and Ireland, said:

“It’s encouraging that 43% voted for change. If you went back ten years, I don’t think you would have anything like that voting for.

"We’re in a period of evolution. We don’t want to be forcing things, decisions have to come from within the clubs, and I’m sure there will be other single gender clubs that will ask their members the same question. Some may well change and some won’t.”

“I think it’s encouraging that clubs are taking this issue sufficiently seriously and are going to their members to give them the option. I very much respect the decision from the membership of any golf club, because if we didn’t have the members, we wouldn’t have the clubs themselves.”

She added:

“We have quite a number of ladies clubs affiliated with the LGU and there seems to be very little appetite to bring in gentlemen members, so it works both ways."


Relayed from The Scotsman newspaper website by Martin Dempster and Martyn McLaughlin