Muirfield golf club has voted to admit women members at the second attempt, regaining the right to host the world’s oldest major tournament, the British Open.
One of Scotland’s last men-only institutions, Muirfield’s decision to allow women members follows similar moves by other traditional golf clubs around the world.
Henry Fairweather, the captain of the Scottish golf club, said women would now “enjoy and benefit from the great traditions and friendly spirit of this remarkable club.” It was a decision that Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, welcomed. She called the decision “the emphatic and right one.”
The result was actually the golf club’s second attempt to realize gender parity in their membership. In May 2016, the members of Muirfield golf club held their first vote over this issue.
Requiring a two-thirds majority to pass the motion to allow both men and women members, Muirfield’s first vote fell 2 percent short (64 percent for, 36 percent against).
This result drew criticism from the wider public, not least the 30 Muirfield members who lobbied to continue to exclude women members. Today’s Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the decision “indefensible” at the time.
Whether the motivation for this change of policy for a club that was founded in 1744 came from a sense of moral obligation is debatable. A stronger push arguably came from the Royal & Ancient Club of St Andrews (the R&A) when it removed Muirfield from its rotation of hosts of the British Open.
The governing body of the world’s oldest major tournament decides on a small group of golf courses who can hold this prestigious status. It is a group few golf clubs would want to be excluded from and likely acted as a significant catalyst to Muirfield’s decision to hold a second vote.
Yet for the wider public, who have witnessed various steps towards greater equality over the last five decades, such segregated memberships appear, at best, out-dated. Others have called it more plainly “sexist golf club regulations.”
Call it what we may—tradition or outdated sexism—Muirfield is not alone in arriving late to the gender equalities party. The R&A itself only admitted members in 2014, ending a 260-year men-only policy. Another Scottish golf club, Royal Troon, and the Kent club Royal St Georges (who both host the British Open too) only voted to admit women members in 2016.
Muirfield’s decision is also not part of a UK-only backwardness. One of the world’s most famous golf clubs, Augusta National in the USA, has seen two significant strides forward for equalities issues in recent years.
In 2012, the exclusive host of one of the year’s other major tournaments, The Masters, voted to allow women members. Yet this step, while welcome, was not the golf club’s most controversial rule to be overturned.
In 1997, Tiger Woods stunned the golfing world by storming to victory in the year’s first major at the golf club in Augusta, Georgia. As a black golfer, his victory was a focal point for people far beyond golf’s privileged few. The first African-America had only been admitted for golf club membership in 1990, and the first black golfer only played the golf course in 1975.
His victory “finished what other people had started“, according to the New York Times. That one of the first two women members of the Augusta National golf club in 2012 was Condoleeza Rice, the black former U.S. Secretary of State, is nothing short of momentous.
While a welcome step, whether Muirfield golf club’s step towards equality is something to be celebrated is a mute point.
Given the society we live in today, we could argue that such regulations of open membership are a bare minimum to expect of our golf clubs whatever the “values and aspirations of its founding members” Muirfield wishes to uphold. The accusation that the sport of golf, and the club institutions like Muirfield who represent it on the world stage, is behind the times is surely based on the snail pace of changes to catch up with the rest of society.
So when will Muirfield’s first women golf club members be teeing up? With a waiting list for membership of over two years, women may still have to wait to play a first Muirfield tee shot.
[Featured Image by Satit Srihin/Shutterstock]