Why Peter Alliss is wrong about gender equality

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 7, 2015 10:49

It’s Masters week and that means there’s a lot more attention on golf than normal. Rory McIlroy is everywhere, stories about planes losing golfers’ clubs are in the mainstream media and if Peter Alliss says something controversial, it’s more likely to be picked up.

And this week it was picked up. The ‘voice of golf’ bemoaned the fight for gender equality in golf over the last two or three years, which has seen, for example, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club admit women for the first time in its history, the all-male and all-female governing bodies for amateur golf in England and Scotland merging, all of the all-male golf clubs that host the Open Championship state they are prepared to make changes to their constitutions and numerous golf clubs marketing exclusively to women to play the game.

Alliss said: “There’s been a hell of a row because four golf courses that hold the Open Championship didn’t have women members. I’m told the Ladies Golf Union has lost 150,000 members since equality for women came in. Hundreds of women have left golf clubs because they’ve gone from paying half fare to full fare. It’s caused mayhem.

“All of the wives of members at these clubs could have used the facilities for free. When I was at Muirfield a couple of years ago talking to a few of the lady members, I said: ‘What about this equality? You must be happy about that?’ ‘God no,’ they said. ‘We can come here and do what we like, we can play golf and don’t pay anything.’”

He added: “The equality thing is a great part of golf. Equality for women: a few people battled away to get it, they got it, and they have buggered up the game for a lot of people.”

Alliss’ comments led to the following headlines, in which most of the stories simply reported his comments and gave no counter argument:

The problem with what Peter Alliss has said is not that it is not necessarily true, but that it is based on extremely limited anecdotal evidence when there already is a full body of research that exists that points to a completely different conclusion.

(And this ignores some confusion in what Alliss is reported to have said: Muirfield is a men-only golf club and does not have lady members, and the Equality Act came in in 2010, and a 2013 survey found that the UK had about 180,000 female golf club members, having lost about 20,000 in England in the previous decade – compared to nearly 150,000 men – with the rate slowing down since the introduction of the Equality Act, which in itself has only had a limited impact on most golf clubs).

Speaking to a few disgruntled wives of men who were members of an all-male golf club and no longer get their golf for free is not the basis for drawing conclusions about gender equality in golf.

It would have been more useful if Peter Alliss had quoted a 2013 KPMG survey that found that women’s participation in golf in the UK is shockingly low – just 14 percent of all golf club members are adult females, or a PGA survey from the same year that found that Great Britain and Ireland is ranked 25th out of 29 for female participation in Europe, and lags well behind Australia and the USA for the proportion of golfers who are female, even though the USA is so concerned at its low rate (of 17 percent) that it has launched a major drive to attract women to golf.

Or if Peter Alliss had looked at surveys that had analysed why women had given up their golf club memberships in the last few years, and found that they have left at exactly the same rate as men, and for the same reasons – predominantly that an 18-hole round of golf takes too long to play and a traditional annual subscription is not cost effective.

But most of all, it would have been great if Peter Alliss had read the research that showed that there is huge demand from women to play golf, that if that demand manifested itself into actual participation it could save hundreds of struggling golf clubs and that the ‘male culture’ of golf clubs is a major barrier to the realisation of that ambition.

But then maybe it’s much more the media’s fault for reporting his views without any disclaimers as it is his for thinking anecdotal evidence is as good as a fact.

Update: The Ladies Golf Union has stated that it has lost 30,000 members since 2010, and not 150,000 as Peter Alliss stated. It has also said that the loss has not been due to the reasons Alliss gave and that it knows of no club where women were given free access to the course because their husbands were members.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 7, 2015 10:49
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  1. Tommy Midlands April 17, 08:03

    Our club embraced equality in 2000, it was forced upon us by threats to our liquor licence if we didn’t. It was driven by a minority of ladies who wanted equality, nearly doubling the fees they paid. It wasn’t democratic as the majority of the ladies were against it. How can equality trump democracy in a democratic country ?

    Reply to this comment
    • Interesting May 19, 15:59

      hmmm…the majority of the ladies huh? You took a study? I wonder….because women are now allowed to be members at your club the club no longer allows spouses to be social members? Is there a reason they would require both members of a couple to be members?

      Reply to this comment
  2. Bob Braban April 9, 19:57

    Peter is a great guy who has done a lot for the development of golf over a lot of years, but it doesn’t make him right all the time. My experience and I’m sure the experience of many who play the game is that a lot of lady members have been completely unaffected by gender equality issues and that those who have encountered changes have seen those changes as positive. With most committees being male dominated, there has been a culture of fear where interference with traditional ‘ladies’ activities might be affected. “Leave well alone or get your own dinner’ seems to have been the dominant theme!

    Bob Braban

    Reply to this comment
    • Interesting May 19, 15:54

      Thank you soo much for taking the time to explain to explain women’s equality and it’s affect on women. Especially that last little tidbit. You win sexist of the day…Bob.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Matthew Orwin April 9, 18:44

    The media just have a field day with golf. The
    industry give them so many opportunities for bad news stories – usually just
    when the profile of the sport is at it’s highest. The next one will be just
    before The Open – bet your life. The truth is that golf is rife with high profile, prehistoric
    dinosaurs that are experts at shooting the industry in the foot and seem to have
    absolutely no idea they’re doing it. It would almost be amusing if it wasn’t so
    tragic. Taxi for Allis, Dawson, Jones et al.

    Reply to this comment
    • Interesting May 19, 16:02

      They live in a bubble where women are routinely discriminated and treated as guests or worse second class, in the politest way possible of course.
      They honestly have no idea that their normal everyday conversation is wildly sexist to the outside world.

      Reply to this comment
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