By Gordon Deegan
A female golfer has failed in her discrimination action against a Co Wicklow golf club over being refused entry into a ‘male only’ open day competition.
In the case before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudication Officer, James Kelly found that Mary Byrne established a prima facie case of direct discrimination that she was refused entry on the grounds of her gender against Woodenbridge Golf Club.
However, Mr Kelly also found that the golf club has satisfactorily outlined the reasons for its decision, has availed of a specific defence set out in the Equal Status Act and as a result has found that Ms Byrne’s complaint fails.
Ms Byrne said that many golf clubs have now moved into the 21st Century but she felt that Woodenbridge Golf Club has not.
Ms Byrne claimed that golf is one of those sports where men and women can play side by side, not segregated based on gender, as men and women competitions can be run concurrently successfully.
Ms Byrne described herself as a ‘keen golfer’, is retired and said that she and her husband often play in golf open days during mini-breaks around Ireland.
Ms Byrne said on May 24th 2017 she saw on the golfnet website that Woodenbridge was hosting an open day on that day.
Ms Byrne said that she was informed that there were spaces available in the competition but she was told that she could not play because it was a “male only” competition.
Ms Byrne said that she pointed out to the golf club’s professional that it was unfair that she could not play the golf course at the same time as her husband and she said that the Club professional said something about ladies having an open day some other time.
Ms Byrne said that this was blatant inferior treatment because of her gender and it really upset her.
Mr Byrne said that having checked the Golfnet website for 2017, Woodenbridge advertise 36 open days for "men only" but only 17 open days for "ladies only".
She said Woodenbridge also advertises 7 open days where both men and women can play side by side. She said that there is no justifiable reason why all the golf club’s open days cannot be open to both genders, as males and females can enjoy the benefits of the golf course at the same time.
Ms Byrne said that in other jurisdictions outside of Ireland that there is case law that supports her contention that restrictions on women’s access to tee-times has always been considered unjustifiable gender discrimination.
In response, the club stated that it was ‘hurt’ by Ms Byrne’s comments.
It stated that “it is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that the complainant felt discriminated against and this was not its intention and goes against all efforts to ensure its continued compliance with the Equal Status Acts”.
The golf club stated that “it is certainly not a club that could, in any manner, be considered as a discriminating club”.
It stated that “it goes to great lengths and strides to ensure that the services it provides to the public, as well as its members, are fair, equitable and accommodative to both genders in as far as possible”.
The club explained how well the ladies and gentlemen committees work together in the best interest of everyone at the Club and it presented witnesses at the hearing to testify the harmony within the Club.
The club pointed out that its open days are organised on a simple supply and demand basis and that the Club would have a 3:1 ratio of men to women membership which is on par with the national average approximately.
The club said its ability to provide and support gender-specific open competitions remains an important feature for the fair running of the sport.
The golf club stated that it is fair to intimate that the incident in question centres round convenience or inconvenience as it were, as opposed to discrimination.
Woodenbridge Golf Club said that changing or adopting the format of a course as suggested by Ms Byrne to permit gender-specific competitions to run concurrently would increase the work load of the individuals tasked with running the competition thereby adding a strain on resources and diminish or interfere with a participant’s enjoyment and ability to play the sport.
The club said that ultimately such a decision would have an adverse effect in such revenue-generating competitions and golf clubs would struggle to survive.
The club stated that “the open days it provides are vital for the continued success of the Club and generate much needed revenue for the Club to ensure it survives in a time in what has become very challenging for clubs”.
The club stated that not all of its open days are displayed on the golfnet website.
Mr Kelly found that “the decision around what competitions are organised are based on demand, simple economics, volunteer capacity and resource availability within the club to cater for running these events”.
Mr Kelly said Section 5(2)(f) of the Equal Status Act allows the club to hold specific competitions and therefore causes for a difference in the treatment of persons on the gender in relation to the provision of its sporting facility or hosting events.
Mr Kelly found that Woodenbridge Golf Club is entitled to rely upon section 5(2)(f) as a defence in the case.