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Controversy is damaging the game, but Dawson is no dinosaur . . .

Forget the referendum.

If the members of the Royal & Ancient vote to allow women into their establishment on September 18, Alex Salmond's big day at the polling booth may be relegated to the news in brief.

Given the increasing furore surrounding golf's single-sex issue, and the undoubted damage that has been wrought on the game by these highly negative perceptions, it was perhaps inevitable that the R&A, the governing body for the sport outside the USA and Mexico, would eventually bow to the barrage. So, after 260 years as a bastion of male dominance, the club's 2400-strong membership will stick an X in their chosen spot.

For the motion to pass, the proposal will need a two-thirds majority and, in order to vote, members will be required to attend the R&A's annual autumn meeting. There will be no postal or proxy votes in this historic process. And there are no guarantees it will go through either.

While it draws its membership from around the world, there may be a concern that the more entrenched, traditional and fusty stalwarts - the kind that outsiders perceive as dozing in the clubhouse in an atmosphere that is as stuffy as a taxidermist's oxter - will stand firm against more progressive thinkers. Only last December, for instance, the Royal Burgess club in Edinburgh, with a male-only policy dating back to 1735, voted against allowing female members.

Peter Dawson, the R&A's chief executive, has been portrayed in some fist-shaking quarters as a stern-faced misogynist and his suggestion, when pressed on the single-sex issue yet again last year, that "sometimes men like to socialize with men" gave those looking to stick the boot in plenty more ammunition.

Contrary to the do-gooding, bandwagon jumpers, Dawson is not some backward-thinking ogre, of course. He is the secretary that oversaw the addition of the word 'female' to the Open Championship's entry form some eight years ago, after all, and continues to drive investment into all manner of projects, from girls and boys golf, to disabled access and grassroots developments in far flung outposts.

While he has always maintained that it is not the R&A's job to perform "social engineering", the organisation's role as a governing body and a custodian of the game on a global scale means that its all-male make-up continues to sit out of kilter with this far-reaching embrace. "Society is changing, sport is changing, golf is changing," he said yesterday. "And I think it is appropriate for a governing body to take this step." In this environment, there is no doubt that this is the right thing to do and a governing body must lead by example.

Should a 'yes' vote occur in September, it will not automatically mean an end to the R&A's Open Championship visiting the men-only venues of Royal St George's, Royal Troon and Muirfield.

By law, these clubs are perfectly entitled to go about their business as they please and the salivating accusations by some commentators in the build up to last year's Open at Muirfield that such a club "brings shame to Scotland" was something of a hysterical over-reaction in the grand scheme of society's ills.

Dawson has always insisted that the R&A would never "bully" such clubs into altering their stance but if the governing body takes the plunge they would then be in danger of flying in the face of their own ruling. That is an issue for another day, though.

Let's get the votes counted first and move forward.

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