British Open to Allow Women to Compete

The British Open (search) will allow women to compete starting in 2006, and might even accept Michelle Wie this summer if she qualifies.

The Royal & Ancient Club (search) said Tuesday it has agreed to alter the wording of entry regulations — a change that could put a woman in one of golf's four majors for the first time.

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said the men-only restriction will be removed in time for next year's Open at Royal Hoylake, although the qualifying procedure for women has not been determined.

The entry form for this year's championship states: "An entry will be accepted from any male professional golfer or from a male amateur golfer whose playing handicap does not exceed scratch."

The three majors in the United States — the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA (search) — have no policy barring women.

"The hesitancy is in the detail, not in the principle," Dawson said. "There has been no resistance to the principle of women playing in the Open if they are qualified for it. We are not dragging our feet. It's just that we have never had cause to think about it before."

Martin Kippax, chairman of the R&A's championship committee, said tournament officials would probably allow Wie to compete this year if the 15-year-old from Hawaii earns an exemption at the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic in Illinois from July 7-10.

"The reality is that she will probably get in (if she claims the exempt spot)," Kippax said. "I am quite sure the championship committee would probably agree to it."

The John Deere is the last PGA event before the British Open. The leading nonexempt player receives an exemption for the Open, which will be held at St. Andrews from July 14-17.

Wie is also trying to qualify for the men's U.S. Open. Annika Sorenstam (search) and Laura Davies (search) have also played in men's tour events.