London: After 260 years of exclusion, women will be allowed to join the Royal and Ancient golf club after an overwhelming members' vote on Thursday opened the doors to the famous St Andrews clubhouse and a role in the governance of the game.
More than 75 percent of the club's 2,400 worldwide members, voting in person and via proxy and postal votes after being encouraged by chief executive Peter Dawson and the club's committees, took part and 85 percent were in favour of the change.
"This vote has immediate effect and I can confirm that The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is now a mixed membership club," Dawson, who retires next year, said in statement.
"This is a very important and positive day in the history of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
"The R&A has served the sport of golf well for 260 years and I am confident that the club will continue to do so in future with the support of all its members, both women and men."
Founded in 1754, the Royal and Ancient's members play on the St Andrews links course regarded as the "home of golf" and host to the British Open a record 28 times.
Although women have been able to play on the course, which staged the women's British Open last year, they were, until Thursday's vote, not allowed in the clubhouse and played no significant part in the sport's rulemaking arm, the R&A.
That body, separated from the club 10 years ago, controls golf around the world apart from in the United States and Mexico and is made up almost entirely of R&A club members.
The sport and its governing body have been criticised for many years with British Open venues like Muirfield and Royal Troon, in Scotland, and Royal St George's in England banning women members.
As recently as last year Dawson said he did not feel there was a need for change but, in the face of sustained criticism and rising concern from sponsors, the R&A announced in March that it would ballot its members and recommend a yes vote.
Helen Grant, Britain's minister for sport, was among the first to welcome the move.
"This is positive news for the sport and I hope we will now see other golf clubs that still have outdated same sex policies follow suit," she said.
"With golf in the next Olympics there is a huge opportunity for the sport to grow and this sends out the right inclusive message that golf is for everyone."
Augusta National, home of the U.S. Masters, finally ended its men-only membership in 2012, when former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore became the first female members, and the R&A's new position was quickly welcomed across the Atlantic.
"This decision is certainly a step in the right direction and one that better captures the current diversity and inclusiveness of our great game," the Ladies' PGA Tour said in a statement.
Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America, agreed.
"Women have played and will continue to play an integral role in the game of golf. In fact, women represent the biggest growth market in the sport, and every step to make golf more inclusive is good for the game," he said in a statement.
"The PGA of America is thrilled that the R&A is welcoming women into its organisation, and loudly applauds its decision."
Members also agreed to fast-track "a significant initial number" of women to become members in the coming months, and though officials did not release any potential names, several high-profile former players and administrators have been suggested.
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Updated Date: Sep 19, 2014 12:18:50 IST