By Gary Anderson

March 26 - The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews looks set to allow women to become members ©Getty Images British Sports Minister Helen Grant has welcomed the possibility that women will be allowed to join the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

She has urged its members to "vote yes" after it was announced today the St Andrews-based club will vote to abolish its 250-year-old men-only policy later this year.

It has emerged that chairman of the club's General Committee, Wilson Sibbett has written to its 2,500-plus  members urging them "now is the time to ask members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club to welcome female members into the club".

He added: "The General Committee sincerely hopes that this rules change will be enthusiastically supported."

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club is one of the oldest in the world and is considered the most influential and the move to allow female members is likely to increase the pressure on all clubs used to stage the Open Championship to follow suit.

Although Sibbett wrote in his letter that "it is of course for members to decide if they wish to alter the rules of the club to give effect to this change of policy" it is widely believed that it would be out of the ordinary for members to go against the wishes of the chairman.

The proposal is set to be discussed at the club's upcoming spring meeting before members will be asked to vote on abolishing the policy in September which will require a two-thirds majority.

"This is welcome news from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and I urge its members to follow their Committees' recommendations and vote 'yes' for women members," said Grant.

"It would mark a step in the right direction for the sport and I would hope encourage the remaining golf clubs that still have anachronistic single-sex member policies to follow suit."

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews is regarded as the spiritual home of golf ©Getty Images The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews is regarded as the spiritual home of golf
©Getty Images

The move comes on the back of increasing pressure from the wider golfing community, politicians and sponsors to allow female members to join all clubs that stage golf's oldest major tournament.

Currently, Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St Georges operate men-only membership policies and women can only attend the clubs as visitors or guests of members.

Last year Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond did not attend the Open Championship at Muirfield, and although he denied he was boycotting the event, he said the men-only membership of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which runs Muirfield, sent out the message that "women were second class citizens".

In January this year, global bank HSBC revealed it had raised concerns with the Royal and Ancient over the men-only policy with the firm's global head of sponsorship and events, Giles Morgan, saying "it would be much more palatable if the events were played where there was not the sense of segregation."

Prior to that, in 2012 the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia - home of the US Masters - invited former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and business executive Darla Moore to become its first female members, ending its 80-year policy of men-only.

Earlier this month golf's governing body, The Royal & Ancient, which is in charge of organising the Open Championships and is a separate entity to the St Andrews club, told insidethegames that it was down to individual clubs on whether to decide to allow female members.

But the Royal & Ancient's chief executive Peter Dawson welcomed the latest development.

"Early indications from the members are very positive indeed," he said.

Golf will make its return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016.

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