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Muirfield vote fails to admit women members, club removed from Open rota

May 19, 2016

It’s a "no" then. To the no doubt complete astonishment of everyone outside golf, the (not-so) Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield have voted against admitting women members. While most of the 800-strong membership did cast their ballots in favor of change -- 64 percent versus 36 percent -- they narrowly failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required by the club’s constitution.

As a result, the R&A has swiftly decided to remove Muirfield, arguably the best course in the Open Championship rota, from consideration for hosting a future Open -- or at least until the club's membership policy is rectified.

"The Honourable Company is a members club, and, as such, the members decide the Rules of the Club, including its membership policy."

“The R&A has considered today’s decision with respect to The Open Championship. 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," R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement. “Given the schedule for staging The Open, it would be some years before Muirfield would have been considered to host the Championship again. If the policy at the club should change we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.”

The deciding factor in the vote was likely a recent letter signed by 33 members. An excerpt: “It is recognised that it is a very sensitive matter and the club is in a difficult position, but associations like ours with a very long and venerable history have strengths which are derived from that history.

“Change must come slowly and for choice should be evolutionary. A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.”

And there’s more, breathtaking in its level of point-missing:

“In the last two-and-a-half years, there has been a considerable effort to consider the question whether to admit lady members – a prospect which may not previously have been on the agenda or even contemplated. It would appear to have been prompted largely by media and political comment at the time of the 2013 Open.

“Whilst there are many members who feel strongly that we should stay as we are (and it is not inconceivable that such may be the final decision) it is maintained that there is a strong case for the debate to continue and in particular for marketing and financial assessment to discover what actually attracts our visitors, prospective new members and possible future lady members to determine what changes, if any, the club should make.”

In a statement, Henry Fairweather, captain of the HCEG, said: “The Honourable Company is a members club, and, as such, the members decide the Rules of the Club, including its membership policy. Women will continue to be welcome at Muirfield on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors, as they have been for many years.”

Ah, were it so simple. Within minutes of Fairweather’s announcement, the R&A made its own about removing the club from the rota.


R&A via Getty Images

So that’s it then. At least for now, there will be no 17th visit to Muirfield by the world’s oldest championship. From a purely golfing point of view, that represents a huge disappointment. Hailed by many as the best and fairest course on the Open rota, the East Lothian links has produced a string of iconic champions, a list that reads like a who’s who of the game’s greatest players: Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Henry Cotton, Walter Hagen, Ted Ray, James Braid, Harry Vardon and Harold Hilton.

There are wider implications of course, the damage done to the game’s image potentially catastrophic in a world less and less tolerant of such nonsense. Yet again, no doubt, golf will be portrayed as a sport played by a bunch of out-of-touch, misogynistic dinosaurs.

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