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The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews today has over two thousand members world wide. The very distinctive clubhouse is situated just behind the first tee of the Old Course. In common with the many other gold clubs in St Andrews the club does not own any of the St Andrews courses, and its members must share the tee times with members of other local clubs, residents and visitors alike.
The golf club that became known as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was founded in 1754 as the Society of St Andrews Golfers, a local golf club playing at St Andrews Links. In 1834, King William IV became its patron and the club became known for the first time as The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
In 1897, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club was invited to take control of the running of golf tournaments at other courses, it became the ruling authority of golf all over the world except the United States and Mexico, where this responsibility rests with the United States Golf Association.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club has worked with the United States Golf Association to regulate the "Rules of Golf" since 1952.
Memberships of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club has always been male, this led the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, to make a point by publicly accusing the club of sexism in light of the fact that unlike some of her predecessors, St Andrews University principal, Dr Louise Richardson, had not been offered honorary membership to the club. As Dr Richardson had no interest in golf it was not really an issue.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club was one of the governing authorities of golf, but in 2004 this role was handed over to a newly formed group of companies, collectively known as The R&A.
The R&A web site states, "Formed in 2004 and based in St Andrews, The R&A seeks to engage in and support activities that are undertaken for the benefit of the game of golf and, despite deriving its name from the members' club, is separate and distinct from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews."