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WA golf clubs under fire for discrimination

WA golf clubs are under pressure to update their constitutions by June 30 to fix a lack of equal access for men and women, with new human rights guidelines released.

Royal Fremantle Golf Club’s annual womens charity event. Photo: Pat Collins

WA golf clubs have been criticised by female members for limiting access to women’s competitions and the lack of representation for women on boards.

In response to a growing number of complaints, the Australian Human Rights Commission released new guidelines to reduce sexual discrimination in golf clubs and increase the membership numbers of women and girls.

Golf WA chief executive Gary Thomas said there were WA clubs that didn’t allow women to be full members.

“That’s discriminatory and those clubs are now fixing their constitutions,” he said.

Mr Thomas believed seven day, full fee paying members must have equal access to the golf course.

“If you pay the same fee regardless whether you’re a female or male you must have the same access to the golf course and you must have the same booking rights,” he said.

Royal Fremantle Golf Club’s annual womens charity event. Photo: Keely Duffield

According to the guidelines female memberships had declined to 20 per cent of club members in Australia which was a significant decrease from 34 per cent in 1970.

Royal Fremantle Golf Club director of women’s golf Margaret Potter said historically golf had been something which more men had been involved with and women had been associate members.

“When I started golf five years ago, there were limitations in regard to the competitions,” she said.  

“I was able to practice any day, but I wasn’t able to play in a competition other than a Sunday.

“The challenge for myself is that I work my own business so that flexibility that you might want to have to play in your sport at a time that suits you and be able to access competition on any day was not an option.”

Ms Potter said she hoped the guidelines would help get more women interested and engaged in leadership roles at golf clubs.

“I think women can offer a lot strategically in terms of perspective and I think if we could get more women on the board then that would be really positive to come up with more initiatives that support golf membership,” she said.

Rita Semple is a full fee paying member of the Bunbury golf club who said she was discriminated against at the club when she voiced her concern that competitions held during the week excluded women who had to work.

Ms Semple said the barriers she faced within the club were deemed traditions but she believed they were unethical practices.

“The main issue that I was fighting was the practice of holding women’s championships during the week,” she said.

“It’s grossly unfair because it excluded the women who worked, but their attitude is that they can take annual leave.”

Ms Semple said she took the issue to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal for sexual discrimination with the argument that the men could play on the weekend and the women couldn’t, but her complaint was dismissed.

“The inability to play during the week isn’t by choice, some of us can’t,” she said.

“We can’t take random days off when we feel like it.

“It took a year and a half out of my life and was a very stressful situation.”

Ms Semple hoped the new guidelines would create equal access for women in her club.

Mr Thomas said the new guidelines were a move in the right direction.

Bunbury Golf Club was contacted for comment.

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