Portmarnock stays 'men only'

04 November 2009 Respond to this article

Portmarnock stays 'men only'

4th November 2009

Irish Supreme Court confirms golf club's right to exclude women

The legal right of Portmarnock Golf Club to restrict its membership to “gentlemen” was confirmed by a majority of the Supreme Court yesterday, by a three to two decision.

In 2004 the District Court found Portmarnock’s principal purpose was the playing of golf, not catering only for the needs of men, and that it was therefore a discriminating club, which meant it was liable to lose its drink licence. The club appealed successfully to the High Court, which held that the primary purpose of the club was to cater for the “needs” of “male golfers”.

Mr Justice Hardiman said that the ordinary, natural and literal meaning of the word “needs” was broad enough to embrace social, cultural and sporting needs as well as more basic needs for things such as air, food and water. It was very significant the authority was unable to point to a single club, “real or imaginary”, which could come within the exemption on the authority’s interpretation of that section, he said.

Mr Justice Geoghegan described as “extraordinary” the fact that, where a club is found to be discriminatory, the only sanction that may be imposed on it under the Act is withdrawal of its drinks licence (if it has one). If it chose to lose its licence, a club could continue to discriminate without penalty for ever.

CLUB REACTION: There was not much rejoicing or celebration at Portmarnock Golf Club last night for its Supreme Court victory. Instead there was silence, caution and an unwillingness to talk.

Members and golfers coming off the windy and isolated links course were generally supportive of the decision that the club, while refusing to admit women as members, is not a “discriminating” club.

“I am glad it is over, it is time for mature reflection for members of the club,” said Maurice Neligan, Irish Times columnist and long-time member of the club.

Both staff and members had been advised not to speak to the media about the result but some spoke to The Irish Times anonymously.

Members were quick to point out that women were able to and did play at the club regularly.

While it is a men’s golf club, women can play there on a green fee basis (€180 to €215) or as an invited guest.

“It is regrettable it went so far,” one male member said. “Women can come here Monday to Friday, any day of the week so this is basically unnecessary,” he said.

“It’s a victory for common sense,” another man coming off the course said, “but I can’t see any triumphalism or anything. “There was no major outcry for women to be members,” he added.

“It’s nonsense to say that it’s men only and chauvinistic. People bring their wives and daughters, it’s more family than anything else,” another member said, adding that it was a “hangover from a different time”.

A woman who had just finished playing a round of golf with her husband was understanding of the decision.

“If ladies want to have a club of their own they can have one,” she said. “I am happy enough with it and play with my husband sometimes.”

One member believed that the case was counterproductive and the rules would have changed had it not been taken. “I think maybe it stiffened the resolve of members and made people adopt attitudes which they might not have adapted otherwise,” he said.

One visiting golfer played at a club with women members. “I have no problems with ladies playing golf as long as they comply with the same rules as we do, in this day and age,” he said.

Senior business people and judges are members of the club and former president the late Patrick Hillery played it often.

However, claims that it was “a prestigious club with decision- making captains of industry is arrant nonsense,” a senior member said.

“It is an ordinary golf club with ordinary people and we don’t discuss business. It’s just a nice place to play golf,” he said.

The clubhouse looks like many others but there are differences. In the car park, there are spaces reserved for the club officials but the usual role of “lady captain” is absent from the list.

This reporter was told that the members were being advised not to speak when she asked to enter the clubhouse.

Later, outside the club, general manager John Quigley approached and said he did not want someone from the press speaking to members either inside or outside the club.

With views across the sea to Howth, Portmarnock is widely considered one of the finest golf links in the world and it consistently appears in lists published of top courses throughout the world where golfers are polled.

It has grown with the sport in Ireland, by staging major Irish and international amateur and professional championships including the Walker Cup, the Irish Open and even the British Amateur Golf Championship in 1949, due to the lack of available courses in Britain after the second World War.

It staged the Women’s Home Internationals in 1981.

By: Genevieve Carbery - Irish Times