Almost eight months have passed since Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, stood in front of the famous old clubhouse that sits behind the 18th green at Muirfield and announced the result of the club’s vote on admitting women members for the first time. On that occasion, those in favor came up a mere 14 votes, or 3 percent, short of the two-thirds majority required by the club constitution. No matter, within minutes the R&A announced that the Open Championship—which has been held 16 times over the East Lothian links, most recently in 2013 when Phil Mickelson won—would not return until membership of the HCEG was available to golfers of both genders.
Now, however, a second vote—exact date still to be arranged—will take place within the next couple of months, with the result being announced before the end of March. In December, every member was sent a pamphlet setting out every aspect of the proposal in relation to a change in the long-established membership policy. The women will have the same rights as the men. There will be no separate rooms for men and women. They will have access to all facilities. And the process by which they will be admitted will be the same as for men.
“A substantial majority of our members voted for change and many have voiced their disappointment with the ballot result and with subsequent events,” Fairweather says. “The club committee believes that a clear and decisive vote in favor of admitting women as members is required to enable us to begin the task of restoring the reputation of the club that has been damaged by the earlier ballot outcome.”
Clearly, a sense of embarrassment lingers in many members of the 373-year old club. And it is that—not the prospect of no more Opens—which is apparently the biggest driving force behind the second ballot.
“In the wake of the last vote, it became very clear to members that, while we are a club, there are wider implications at play here,” says one member, who wishes to remain anonymous. “We have responsibilities to East Lothian and to Scotland. The Open is the fourth biggest sporting event in the UK and does have a strong economic impact.
“But what is most different this time is that the vote on women is being taken because it is simply the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter how late it is,” the source continued. “And we are not voting because of the Open. Financially, that is not too big a deal for the club. But there are longer-term implications in terms of visitors and the quality of our staff and members. In 10 years will working on Muirfield look as good on a greenkeeper’s CV as it does now? Plus, it must be acknowledged that many of the next generation will find it difficult to be a member of a club that excludes women. The world is changing.”
And so, it would appear, are the Honourable Gentlemen. At last.