his marks a big week for the R&A. Its corporate wing, denied a week in the sun with a 2020 Open Championship, will seek to emphasise everything that is positive about the sport – in such obscure times – as the Women’s Open rolls into Royal Troon. Yet one element of the backdrop should sit awkwardly. Prince Andrew, a past captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, is still a part of its present. “HRH The Duke of York is an honorary member of the club,” confirmed a spokesman. “He does not currently carry out any duties on its behalf. We would not comment further on matters relating to individual members.”
When Andrew was in effect suspended from royal duties by the Queen in November, he admitted: “The circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support.” It is curious his golf attachments – of which there are so many – remain.
He is a patron of Royal Portrush, where the Open was memorably staged last year. “We continue to monitor the situation, as involves investigations on both sides of the Atlantic,” said a spokesman. “There are no plans for him to return to the club.” Privately, you needn’t scrape far below the surface at Portrush to encounter embarrassment at this situation.
The Duke is a patron at Royal Liverpool, another Open venue. “His Royal Highness was last at Hoylake in September 2019, when he spent an afternoon supporting the GB&I team in their Walker Cup endeavours,” said Simon Newland, the club secretary. “Since then, we understand through press release and media commentary that the Duke of York has stepped back from public duties for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, Royal Liverpool Golf Club will not call upon him to engage in an activity on its behalf.”
Yet, at Portrush and elsewhere, the patronage or honorary membership remains intact. What the point is of such positions when the person in question has been removed from public view is open to conjecture.
The Duke’s website lists golf patronages and memberships in every corner of Britain. He is an honorary member of the Royal Burgess Golfing Society in Edinburgh. Graham Callander, the club’s general manager, answered “not particularly” when asked whether this connection had caused any problems in recent times. “We are following the lead from the R&A,” he said. “As far as I’m aware, he is still a member of the R&A. They are the governing body so we take a lead from them. If they did something, I think we would follow suit.” This perfectly illustrates why the R&A’s position is significant.
There are umpteen tales of clubs moving photos of Andrew, which once took pride of place, into clubhouse corners. This emphasises unease. But beyond that, there really hasn’t been much made of golf’s link to a royal who has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. An exception arrived from the Golf Foundation, a junior charity who severed ties with Andrew after his Newsnight interview of nine months ago.
Pressure has increased on the Duke since the July arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell, a long-time associate. Andrew has categorically denied claims by one accuser, Virginia Giuffre (née Roberts), that he had sex with her after she was trafficked by Epstein when she was 17 and a minor. Andrew continues “to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein”, but has insisted he did not know of any wrongdoing by the convicted sex offender. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to charges in the United States.
The Duke of York Young Champions’ Tournament, a competition launched in 2001 and that once featured Rory McIlroy, was scrapped this year. This was a direct consequence of the Prince Andrew Charitable Trust ceasing operations. It was also unfortunate; this competition was highly regarded as a platform for emerging players.
Clubs are fiercely protective of royal status. Legend goes that the Berkshire Golf Club had the moniker removed after a member of the royal family took umbrage that James Braid, the famed Scottish professional of the early 20th century, was denied access to the clubhouse for lunch.
Andrew is thought to be one of four members of the royal family – the Duke of Edinburgh, the Princess Royal and the Duke of Kent the others – among 22 who have honorary status with the R&A. Perhaps golf fears a backlash from that scenario being changed. It is, however, worth considering the mutual messaging of the status quo.