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R&A chief Dawson defends club after sexism row

By Martyn Herman

HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Chief executive Peter Dawson jumped to the defense of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club on Wednesday after the bastion of male exclusivity came under fire from the female principal of St Andrews University.

The famous club in St Andrews, regarded as the home of golf, will host the British Open next year by which time its men-only membership policy may well have been scrapped.

University principal Louise Richardson, a keen golfer, has not been offered honorary membership of the club, a privilege enjoyed by many of her male predecessors, and to compound her angst she is quoted as saying she has been mocked by members who sarcastically waved their club ties towards her.

Dawson, however, said the R&A and the university enjoyed a good relationship.

“I did read those comments,” Dawson told reporters at a news conference on the eve of the Open at Royal Liverpool, a club which welcomes women members, on Wednesday.

“To be honest, we just don't recognize those remarks as in any way accurately representing the relationship between the R&A and St Andrews University. We have an excellent relationship.

"We're very supportive of the university. We've been very supportive of its fundraising efforts. In fact, it's 600th anniversary fundraising just finished, and we contributed 500,000 pounds to it, a not inconsiderable sum in support of St. Andrews University.

"Really that's all I have to say on this.”

R&A members will vote on Sept. 18 on whether to admit women to the club.

Irish American Richardson, who became the university’s first female principal in 2009, told the New York Times she had turned down occasional invites to attend lunches at the club less than a mile from her office, saying she would only enter the clubhouse once the men-only rule is abolished.

She said some members had waved their ties "to draw attention, lest I didn’t notice. They think that’s funny," she said.

The sexism issue often surfaces at the British Open and last year Scottish first minister Alex Salmond boycotted the tournament at Muirfield labeling its men-only membership “indefensible in the 21st century”.

Asked whether he questioned Richardson's version of events, Dawson added: "I don't know what Louise actually said, and I assume that the article was accurate in reflecting what she said.

"But I do feel that one or two things are not quite as portrayed."

(This story changes attribution of Richardson's quotes to New York Times in paragraph 10)

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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