VENERATED Scottish golf club Muirfield has hosted The Open Championship 16 times but has now been taken off the rota after a membership vote failed to overturn the long held no women members rule.
Muirfield, governed by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is reputedly the oldest organised golf club in the world, but the R&A has decided it is time it joined the 21st century.
To be fair to the club’s committee, they were pushing for members to vote to allow women members for the first time since its inception in 1744, but fell just 14 votes short of getting the two-thirds majority needed.
Reports suggest a cabal of some 33 mostly older members sent out a letter warning of the “dangers” of allowing female members.
“The introduction of lady members is bound to create difficulties… They are likely over time to question our foursomes play, our match system, the uncompromising challenge our fine links present, our lunch arrangements. It will take a very special lady golfer to be able to do all the things that are expected of them,” the letter said.
Stuart McEwan, the Club Secretary, said: “I’m sure the letter might have swung the vote. That’s what you call campaigning.”
He added: “It’s a blow for the club, a blow for the community and for Scotland. I can tell you how disappointed (the committee) are and how involved they have been with trying to push this through. It is a shame that it didn’t happen.”
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers wasn’t impressed after just 397 (64%) of the 616 members who cast a ballot voted in favour of admitting women, while 219 (36%)voted against. A further 14 votes in favour of change were needed to reach the two-thirds majority.
“The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and, going forward, we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” Slumbers said.
Muirfield last staged the Open in 2013 when Phil Mickelson was champion.
Gary Player and Rory McIlroy comment
A number of prominent players have come out decrying the vote, particularly the likes of Gary Player, who won the first of his three Open titles at Muirfield in 1959.
“As much as I love and respect Muirfield as a club where I won the Open, I totally agree with the R&A that staging the championship at any venue that does not admit women is simply unacceptable,” Player said.
“I hope Muirfield will reconsider their position soon and continue hosting one of the world’s greatest golf events.”
Fellow Open champion Rory McIlroy also backed the R&A’s action, saying: “They (Muirfield) can do what they want but, in this day and age, it’s not right to host the world’s biggest tournament at a place that does not allow women to become members.”
“Hopefully they can see some sense and we can get it back there one day.
“The R&A did the right thing. It’s 2016 and we have to move with the times. It’s taken long enough.
“Bigger picture, it’s a great golf course, but there’s so many other great golf courses that we play on the Open rota that we’re not going to miss one. I think it’s more their loss than it is the R&A’s or our loss.
“If that’s what they want to do, obviously it’s a free world and they can do that, but they must have known that it was going to cause this sort of controversy.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon supported the R&A’s stance on Muirfield.
“Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible,” she said.
Peter Alliss puts his foot in it
At the other end of the spectrum, veteran BBC broadcaster Peter Alliss risked the ire of many by saying Muirfield was right to bar female members, insisting women would never want to pay the fees anyway.
The clubhouse is full of bloody women. They love going there for nothing
“The fact is if you talked to the wives of members of Muirfield they would be horrified at the prospect of being allowed to join,” the 85 year old said.
“The wives can use all the facilities at the club but it doesn’t cost them anything. If they had to pay to join they would be horrified.
“I spoke to women at Muirfield when the Open was last held there in 2013. I said: ‘Are you all crusading to be members?’ and they said: ‘No fear’.
“This is nonsense. Women have always been allowed to play at Muirfield.
Alliss ventured further, suggesting the letter sent to members was “probably written by a woman”. He added: “It wouldn’t surprise me if a lady sent that around. The clubhouse is full of bloody women. They love going there for nothing.”