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This Thursday, Scotland holds its referendum on independence, and we've been reporting a lot about that. On that same day, the results of another vote will be revealed in Scotland. One of the world's most famous golf institutions will announce whether women will be allowed to join. Men and women have long golfed together in the Scottish town of St. Andrews, but women have never been allowed to join the prestigious Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Our story comes from Doug Tribou of the NPR sports program Only a Game.
DOUG TRIBOU, BYLINE: Not long after the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was founded in 1754, the members trimmed the local coarse from 22 holes to 18, setting the modern standard. During the 20th century, the club was one of two groups that set the game's rules. Gold has changed a lot in the past 260 years, but one thing is the same - all of the Royal and Ancient's members are men.
LOUISE RICHARDSON: How would you feel if the rule were no blacks could members of the R and A? Refusal to allow women to be members of the R and A is precisely the same, and as such, it's unacceptable.
TRIBOU: Louise Richardson is the first female leader of this seaside community of other influential institution, University of St. Andrews.
RICHARDSON: Golf and the university have dominated this town since the 15th century.
TRIBOU: Richardson doesn't golf, but this is the clubhouse issue. All of the courses in town are open to the public - male and female. But some of her male predecessors have held honorary memberships, and Richardson wasn't offered one. Women can't even enter as guests. She says that creates some professional problems for her.
RICHARDSON: It regularly happens that a donor will ask to have lunch at the R and A. Well, of course I can't take them to have lunch at the R and A because women aren't allowed in.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK, good. Keep the ball to the wind.
TRIBOU: Ironically, women tee off right in front of the iconic Royal and Ancient club house all the time. The old course - one of the world's oldest - attracts golfers from all over, including Donna Forrest, who lives in Sydney, Australia.
DONNA FORREST: I just think that, you know, in this day and age that they need to move with the times. And I like tradition, as well. I'm quite a traditional person. But when it comes to being female, I don't think anyone should stop you to go anywhere.
TRIBOU: But there are female golfers who disagree. Sheena Willoughby and her husband own the Dunvegan Hotel. Their slogan is, only a nine iron from the old course. Willoughby is an avid golfer and a member of a ladies' club. But since everyone can golf in St. Andrews, she thinks the Royal and Ancient social aspects are just fine.
SHEENA WILLOUGHBY: There's a hundred other places to go for lunch. I mean, it's a men's golf club. That's what it is. You know, some people - you just have to accept some things in life. I don't see what the fixation is about going at the R and A, personally.
TRIBOU: The Royal and Ancient vote comes as a St. Andrews is preparing to host the 2015 British Open. The club turned down NPR's multiple requests for an interview, but in a written statement, said, if the measure to admit women passes, it would take immediate effect, adding that the first women members, quote, "would be likely to have made a significant contribution to the development of our sport."
DAVID JOY: Nobody's going to be aghast if women are suddenly in the R and A.
TRIBOU: There are single-sex clubs - male and female - all over the U.K. Golf historian and life-long town resident David Joy is an honorary member of another historic local club - the St. Andrews Golf Club, which began admitting women a few years ago.
JOY: I mean, the St. Andrews club is very much a working man's club, but the idea of letting women in socially was like, oh, you'll open the floodgates, and this place will never be the same. Women in this club? Your father would turn in his grave. Now, within four months, we didn't notice them coming in.
TRIBOU: Two thirds of the 2,500 Royal and Ancient members must vote to admit women for the motion to pass. University of St. Andrews principal Louise Richardson says she's confident it will. Either way, the final count will be examined much more closely than the average score card. For NPR News, I'm Doug Tribou.
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