According to reports on the newswires this morning across the UK, organisers of The Open Championship are set to give women the chance to qualify for golf’s oldest major championship.

Peter Dawson, Secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, said a change to the entry form will allow women to enter the event.

Applications to play are currently only accepted from “male” golfers, but that word may be removed in 2006. Apparently, it is too late to make any changes to this year’s forms as they have already been printed.

In an interview with Laurence Donegan of The Guardian, Dawson said: “The R&A is not in the business of keeping women out. If the word is offensive we will take it out.”

Dawson said the entry form for the 2005 Open, which starts at St Andrews on 14 July, had already been printed, but by 2006 there would be a modified form available.

The current wording says entries are only allowed from “any male professional or from a male amateur golfer whose playing handicap does not exceed scratch”.

But if Dawson’s proposed change is approved by the Open’s Championship Committee, the likes of World number one Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies and 15-year-old amateur sensation Michelle Wie would be able to enter the qualifying events.

The move would bring the Open into line with the United States Golf Association, which has already removed “male only” from the entry form for the US Open, and the organisers of the Masters, who have said they would welcome any woman that qualified.

Dawson was quick to point out that he did not envisage, or want, The Open to become a “dual sex” event.

“Golf at the elite level is not being played like that,” he said.

“That wording was put in place at a time when it was never thought that women would want to enter.”

Laura Davies, winner of 66 titles in a 20-year-career, called it a fantastic development and predicted some of her colleagues on the women’s professional tour might be tempted to compete against the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“The most likely candidate to have a go right now would be Michelle Wie, who hits the golf ball a very long way – an absolute necessity for any woman who wants to compete against the top men,” she said.

The move has still to be approved by The Open’s Championship committee – and even if it goes through Sorenstam, Wie and Davies would still be a long way from competing alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els in a major.

Since they do not have a World ranking, even the top women golfers would either have to come through a qualifying tournament or gain one of the exemptions on offer at events like the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond or the Western Open or John Deere Classic on the US Tour, to which they could be invited to play.