It all started with an 8-iron: a club that, after a few lessons, I once struck beatifically. After that day, nothing could save me; I'd completely fallen for the game. As a junior, I watched, read and followed everything to do with the sport, adamant that my destiny clearly lay on tour. Even once the reality hit home that the LPGA was probably a step too far, my love for the game never faltered, aside from the time I failed to make a putt to break my record at 15, which admittedly did come close to ending the love affair.
Trouble is, as a female golfer mixing in a male-dominated sport, it is almost impossible to fit in. It's not just the fact that the men at my club have a tendency to swamp the members' lounge, which the ladies duly avoid, or the fact that when purchasing a bucket of range balls there is always a young, aspiring McIlroy-type who sniggers as the machine fails to recognise your privilege card. There's more to it than that. While the majority of female members feel obliged to create their own clique away from the predominantly male crowd, every single member is just as committed to the game as the next and intent on achieving the same goal: to play the game of golf as best they can. One can generally cope playing in a monthly 4-ball competition, as the men are usually too busy discussing their latest Callaway creation to be interested in where your drive landed, but when it comes to practicing, the tension between the sexes is resoundingly clear.
Whenever I turn up on the driving range, particularly early morning when I'm obviously seen to be intruding on the male atmosphere, I always notice the raised eyes and dubious glances as the men silently mutter, "Blonde with a 7-iron? Give me a break." It probably doesn't help that I generally fail to dress to impress for the range (arriving in skinny jeans and ballet flats usually means you have met an unimpressed glare before you have even arrived at the door of the clubhouse), but still, if you're managing to hit the 125-yard marker in a straight line and are able to rise above the invisible pressure, why should I be bothered? Because like it or not, the men still rule the range, and they know it.
However, progress is in sight. The news that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the 'home of golf', at St Andrews has voted overwhelmingly to admit female members for the first time in its 260-year history is highly welcome. Ending decades of tradition, the move means that the elitist aura at the top of the game is easing, which can only be a good thing for the future of the sport. It would be nice to think that the result was largely due to the genuine desire for more recognition of female players, rather than pressure from the R&A's governing body, though it does make you wonder. Peter Dawson, the club's secretary, urged the club's 2,400 male membership to "do what's right for golf," and happily welcomed the vote's outcome:
"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."
Pressure now falls on the three other renowned courses on the Open Championship agenda - Muirfield and Royal Troon in Scotland and Royal St George's in Kent - to follow suit. Whilst I suspect that St Georges may be the last of the three to open its doors to the ladies, there is no doubt that the sport is fast realising the importance in establishing lasting equality within the game. The R&A should be encouraged that women desperately seek to be a part of one of golf's most treasured establishments, which shows the desire and direction of many female players. Gone are the days of 'Gentlemen only, ladies forbidden,' a new era in the future of the game has now begun.