Tait: If Muirfield continues ban on female members, British Open should look elsewhere

Muirfield, shown at the 2013 British Open
Muirfield, shown at the 2013 British Open (Getty Images)

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield could seriously hinder golf’s progress if members vote not to accept women as members.

The club is set to announce Thursday the results of a ballot put to members on admitting women into the club for the first time in its 272-year history.

A report in today’s The Scotsman newspaper claims the result hangs in the balance and that the club won’t get the necessary two-thirds majority to allow women to join.

The club surely couldn’t be stupid enough to continue to remain in the Dark Ages and discriminate against half of the world’s population, especially considering the important role that Muirfield has played in the game’s history, could it?

Club officials have recommended that female membership should be offered on the “same basis as men,” according to the report. It would bring the Edinburgh-based club in line with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and Royal St. George’s, both of which voted last year to accept female members.

Royal Troon, the site of this year’s British Open, is the only other all-male club on the Open rota. Troon is undergoing its own review process and is thought to be on the verge of admitting women.

According to The Scotsman, a group of 33 members has written to fellow members advising that female membership “should not be approved at this time.” It tells members to give the proposal “very careful thought” and that the proposal is a “very major change and will involve inevitable risk.”

Surely the entire membership couldn’t be so naive as to turn down this golden chance of enlightenment, could it?

According to The Scotsman, the letter further states:

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

That previous paragraph is laughable. The club has had 272 years to think about this issue. However, the “no” group thinks change has been forced upon the club.

The letter continues: “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.”

The club feels under pressure to make the change in order to host future Opens, but the 33-strong “no” group doesn’t think the R&A would take the course off the Open circuit if female members were to be rejected.

“On the balance of issues, would the R&A actually remove HCEG from The Open circuit given the economic benefit to the national and local economy and the lack of suitable supply of alternative venues?

“It is accepted that we may have to change, but we should not do so now on the basis suggested. We have had a lengthy process, but it is felt that there is time to pause and consider further options to develop the club and it is hoped retain The Open.

“It is recommended that members vote against the resolution to change our rules to include the admission of lady members.”

The R&A would come under huge pressure not to take the game’s oldest championship to a course that many, myself included, think is the best Open venue.

If the vote, indeed, is to be “no” on Thursday, the governing body should remove Muirfield (No. 4, Golfweek’s Best Great Britain and Ireland Classic Courses) from the Open rota. As a private members’ club, the Honourable Company is well within its rights to determine its own membership. However, as a body governing the game for men and women worldwide beyond the U.S. and Mexico, the R&A should not be taking its championships to clubs that discriminate on the basis of gender, no matter how good the course is.

Muirfield members hopefully will recognize the club’s role in the history of the game. Golf’s original 13 rules emanated at Muirfield, when the Honourable Company preceded the Royal & Ancient as the world’s pre-eminent club.

Muirfield can play another important part in the game’s history by voting Thursday to be inclusive. It can send a message to the world that golf is a game for all in 2016, and isn’t still stuck in 1916.

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