Golf club ‘did not break the law’ by refusing to allow female golfer to play in men-only event

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 24, 2018 06:18

A woman who took discrimination action against an Irish golf club that refused to allow her to participate in a men-only competition has failed in her complaint.

According to the Irish Examiner, golfer Mary Byrne took the case involving Woodenbridge Golf Club before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), after seeing an online advert for an open day at the club last May.

Ms Byrne said that she was informed that there were spaces available in the competition but she was told that she could not play because it was a ‘male only’ event.

Describing this as “blatant misogyny”, she said that it was unfair that she could not play the golf course at the same time as her husband, who she often plays with at open days during mini-breaks around Ireland.

She added that golf is a sport where men and women can play side by side, that the club in 2017 advertised 36 open days for ‘men only’, but only 17 open days for ‘ladies only’ and just seven where men and women could play side by side.

She said that there is no justifiable reason why all the golf club’s open days cannot be open to both genders and that in other jurisdictions outside of Ireland there is case law that supports her contention that restrictions on women’s access to tee times has always been considered unjustifiable gender discrimination.

However, the WRC’s adjudication officer, James Kelly, ruled that the complaint had failed because it was financially necessary for the club to host men-only competitions.

Woodenbridge had stated that ‘the open days it provides are vital for the continued success of the club and generate much needed revenue for the club to ensure it survives in a time in what has become very challenging for clubs.’

It pointed out that its open days are organised on a simple supply and demand basis and that the club would have a 3:1 ratio of men to women membership which is on par with the national average, and that the incident in question centres round convenience or inconvenience as opposed to discrimination.

Mr Kelly agreed and said that “the decision around what competitions are organised are based on demand, simple economics, volunteer capacity and resource availability within the club to cater for running these events.”

The club added that ‘it is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that the complainant felt discriminated against and this was not its intention … it is certainly not a club that could, in any manner, be considered as a discriminating club.

‘It goes to great lengths and strides to ensure that the services it provides to the public, as well as its members, are fair, equitable and accommodative to both genders in as far as possible.’

The club explained how well the men’s and ladies’ committees work together in the best interest of everyone at the club and it presented witnesses at the hearing to testify the harmony within the club.

It said its ability to provide and support gender-specific open competitions remains an important feature for the fair running of the sport.

The club said that it is also worth bearing in mind that had Mr Byrne sought to play golf the day before, on a day when a ‘ladies only open competition’ had been scheduled, her husband would have been refused entry for the period that competition was running.

Woodenbridge Golf Club said that bringing in changes as suggested by Ms Byrne to permit gender-specific competitions to run concurrently would increase the workload of the individuals tasked with running the competition, thereby adding a strain on resources and diminish or interfere with a participant’s enjoyment and ability to play the sport.

The club said that ultimately such a decision would have an adverse effect in such revenue-generating competitions and golf clubs would struggle to survive.

In his decision, Mr Kelly said that he was satisfied that the golf club “allows access to its services in a non-discriminatory fashion”.

Mr Kelly said Section 5(2)(f) of the Equal Status Act allows the club to hold specific competitions and therefore causes for a difference in the treatment of persons on the gender in relation to the provision of its sporting facility or hosting events.

He found that while Ms Byrne established a prima facie case of direct discrimination that she was refused entry on the grounds of her gender against Woodenbridge Golf Club, the golf club had also satisfactorily outlined the reasons for its decision, had availed of a specific defence set out in the Equal Status Act and, as a result, Ms Byrne’s complaint had failed.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 24, 2018 06:18
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  1. djm July 26, 20:05

    She must be a hoot at the 19th

    Reply to this comment
  2. roger July 20, 13:06

    Men want to play in ladies events especially the seniors..

    Reply to this comment
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