Ilkley Bowling Club are holding a vote to admit women as members for the first time since the 1920s

Ilkley town centre
Ilkley town centre
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A crown green bowls club which has never allowed women to join as full members in its 100-year history will vote on whether to admit them next month.

Ilkley Bowling Club on Skipton Road has around 1,700 full members, all of whom are eligible to vote in the ballot at King's Hall on March 3.

The club was founded in the early 1920s but women can only enter the bar as guests of members, and are banned completely during the week.

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The main bar area - where a pint of beer costs less than £2 - is an entirely male preserve on weekdays and women are permitted to drink as 'associates' after 5pm from Friday-Sunday and on bank holidays.

Between 10 and 15 per cent of the active bowls players at the club are female and they may enter the bar during matches to purchase drinks, which they must then consume outside.

There are other areas of the premises that women may use, such as the lounge, and female bar staff are employed.

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A vote on the issue was last held seven years ago, but the motion failed to pass. A two-thirds majority of attendees at the ballot is required for it to be implemented.

Club secretary Richard Bell posted notice of the vote on behalf of the committee as 'the world has changed'.

"We are a private members' club, so we are not governed by equality legislation. The main bar area is a male preserve between Monday and Thursday, which is legal.

"Women are welcome to use the greens and other areas of the club, and during the bowls season they can purchase drinks from the bar to take outside. We have women playing in our teams - the number of female players is proportionate to the sport in general."

Visiting players and members' spouses are considered associate members. The club no longer holds private functions.

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"We last held a vote seven years ago, but since then the world has changed and moved on, and the club has changed too. It is time to ask the members for their opinion again," added Richard.

"I'm not sure what the general opinion is among the members - that would be like asking them how they intend to vote in a general election!

"We are expecting a large turnout, and our clubhouse is not big enough, so we have booked King's Hall."

If the motion is passed, priority for full membership will be given to the 500 women who currently have associate status. They will be able to apply to the club from July 1.

The decision has echoes of the ongoing saga surrounding female admission to Muirfield Golf Club near Edinburgh. In 2017, 80 per cent of members voted to allow women to join after the course was blacklisted by the organisers of the Open, one of golf's most prestigious tournaments.

However, it took two years before a group of 12 women had their membership applications accepted. The delay was attributed to the club's long waiting list and strict vetting process. Ap-plicants often face a wait of seven years and must play as a guest in order to acquaint themselves with existing patrons.

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A vote had previously been held in 2016 but a two-thirds majority was not reached. The R&A then removed Muirfield from a list of potential Open host venues.

"The admission of women is a subject on which people hold stronger opinions nowadays, " added Richard.