As Muirfield says no to women members, The R&A is right to confirm that unless this changes, The Open will not be revisiting the famous East Lothian links…
Today has not been a great day for golf, with the news that a ballot of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ 750 members has failed to return the two-thirds majority required to allow women members into the club.
In the modern era, most, if not all, will find it hard to fathom how they could possibly have come to that decision, especially knowing that it could have severe ramifications for the club’s Open Championship prospects going forwards.
It’s hard to imagine they thought they might be collectively calling The R&A’s bluff over the issue to see what the response would be, but The R&A has moved on a long way over the matter of women members, and a clearly worded statement from new chief executive, Martin Slumbers, has confirmed what the vast majority of the population and golfing world believe to be the correct response – no women members, no Open Championship:
“We have consistently said that it is a matter for the Honourable Company to conduct a review of its membership policy and that we would await their decision.
“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.
“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.”
It seems a last-ditch letter from Muirfield’s ‘no’ campaign was sufficient to sway the floating voters, with many commentators prior to the vote believing that the club would surely now feel honour-bound to do the right thing given The R&A’s historic vote to admit women members in late 2014.
Muirfield now finds itself out on a limb along with this year’s Open venue, Royal Troon, where a review is well underway over the same issue, with word circulating that the members are being strongly encouraged to vote yes. Unlike Muirfield, Royal Troon does at least have a separate women’s club, with which the main club co-hosts The Open.
I have chatted with many people about this over the years and have often had it pointed out, especially north of the border, that the majority of golf clubs in St Andrews are single-sex one way or the other, so why can’t we just live and let live?
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, the real problem is that those clubs are not hosting golf’s oldest and most famous championship, governed and run by an organisation, which, for the good of the game, can simply no longer afford to be associated with clubs that exclude women.
Slumbers, in his short tenure, has made it clear that this simply cannot be allowed to happen going forwards, hence The R&A’s response to this morning’s vote.
It is the right response, and as Slumbers says, the timing is as good as it can be for Muirfield, with a considerable number of years remaining before it would next be due to host The Open.
However many years that may be, let’s hope it proves sufficient time for its members to come to their senses, so the fine links at Muirfield can remain one of The R&A’s chosen ten.