The Open Gets Underway Amid Sexism Row

The issue of single-sex golf clubs will be addressed ``in time'', according to the head of the body that governs women's amateur golf.

Shona Malcolm, chief executive of the Ladies' Golf Union, spoke out as the row over sexism in the sport escalated. 

Play at the Open got under way today at the renowned Muirfield club in East Lothian - which does not allow female members. 

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has already said he will not attend the prestigious event, while UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller is boycotting the tournament over the hosts' refusal to admit female members. 

Ms Malcolm accepted having men-only clubs was a ``bit of an anachronism in this day and age'' but said golf was in an ``evolutionary process''. 

She staid any change away from single-sex clubs had to be supported by the sport, and should not be imposed from outside. 

She raised the issue the day after Peter Dawson, the chief of golf's governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, said officials were ``very conscious'' of views on the issue. 

Mr Dawson said single-sex clubs were in a ``very small minority'' in the sport, and while he accepted they were a divisive issue he added: ``In our view they don't do anyone any harm.'' 

He said: ``I'm absolutely not going to pre-empt what's going to come of this, I wouldn't even want to call it a review, but we're very conscious of the disparity of views on this subject.'' 

Ms Malcolm told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that the Ladies' Golf Union could ``see both sides of the argument''. She said: ``I suppose it's a bit of an anachronism in this day and age that there are single-gender clubs in any sport, not just golf. 

``But on the other hand we have a number of affiliated bodies who are single-gender ladies' clubs. They are very traditional, very historic clubs, as are some of the men's ones, and they want to protect their traditions and history as much as the likes of Muirfield does. Some of these clubs are 120 years old.'' 

When asked if it was time for change, she said: ``We're in an evolutionary process, freedom of association is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and really we need to respect that, but in this day and age things will move forward with time.

 ``But it has to be with the members of clubs recognising the benefits of it, wanting to move forward and wanting to embrace change. I think it's much better coming from within the sport than being imposed from outside.'' 

She also insisted that single-sex clubs was ``not the biggest issue facing ladies' golf by any manner of means''. 

Ms Malcolm said the number of women playing the sport was falling, saying: ``In 2004-05 we had 210,000 lady members of golf clubs in Britain and Ireland, last year that was down to 177,000. We're probably expecting another 6% drop-off this year, so participation numbers are dropping. 

``It's not at all, we think, to do with single-gender clubs. It's not an issue that's ever been raised with me in a golf club.'' 

Mr Salmond yesterday stressed the need for ``equality between men and women'' in the sport. 

The First Minister said: ``Scotland is proud of its tradition as the home of golf. However, if we are to be the future of this great game it is only right we have equality between men and women. 

``I will not be at Muirfield but wish everyone involved all the best for a great tournament. My views on single-sex golf clubs are well-enough known, but I'm certain this year's Open, at arguably the best golf course in the world, will be another fantastic advert for Scotland.''