Muirfield: A vote for common sense

News & Tour

Muirfield members have, at last, decided to allow women to join. But, writes, Alex Perry, we must not abandon all our principles.

At last – a victory for womankind through the ages. Just 99 years after women were given the right to vote, they are now allowed to become members of Muirfield.

On Tuesday, a vote in favour of allowing female members was announced by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. Apropos of which, I can’t be the only one who involuntarily snorts in derision at the word “honourable”?

From 621 votes, 498 voted in favour and 123 against.

I feel like I should be happy that Muirfield and 80 percent of its members have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but all I can think about is why on earth any woman would want to join a club whose existing members have such prehistoric views on the opposite sex.

So let’s not be too quick to pat them on the back. They don’t deserve it. The initial vote, which saw members vote in favour of keeping women out, was met with a furious backlash from the wider world. The R&A, quite rightly, put the club into Open Championship quarantine while they sorted the mess out.

Then came the secondary wave of annoyance from golfers and fans alike. Muirfield is arguably the best course on the Open rota, but few could complain about the stance taken by golf’s governing body.

But would Muirfield have had a second vote if none of the above had happened? Only a handful of people know for sure, but you can make your own mind up.

What’s worse: the fact that it took until 2016 to have the initial vote to allow women to become members at a club whose records date back to the mid-18th century, or the fact the motion was vetoed by its existing associates?

Or that it took almost another year for them to right the wrong – and even then it went to another vote, one that has taken more than a month to sort out.

Prior to the second vote, the club’s captain, Henry Fairweather, had noted it was required in order “to begin the task of restoring the reputation of the club”, adding that Muirfield was “damaged by the earlier ballot outcome”.

Muirfield. And golf as a whole.

Let’s compare this to how the previously men-only Royal Troon dealt with the situation. A show of hands from attending members and some admirable words from club captain Martin Cheyne.

“The focus was on all categories of membership and how we could become more involved in promoting golf,” he said. “It is a sport which is currently declining in male, female and junior membership.

“What we did was focus on the single issue of women’s members but we need to focus on how we can encourage young people to play this game.”

The cynics among you will note that Troon’s vote happened shortly after Muirfield’s, so therefore they had the chance to make it clear to their members that they would be wise to avoid similar negative headlines and removal of their Open Championship-hosting privileges.

But therein lies another serious issue affecting golf.

Pick up a newspaper and flick through the sports pages. How many golf stories can you find? If, for the sake of argument, Justin Rose had won the WGC-Mexico Championship a couple of weeks ago, how many of the nationals would have dedicated valuable column inches to it?

Yet punch “Muirfield vote” into your search bar and you’ll be greeted by a never-ending stream of commentators keen to air their views on the gender discrimination issues that have blighted golf for decades.

I guess this brings a whole new meaning to “sex sells”. And it all leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.

This, really, is only the beginning of a rebuilding process to get golf back to where it once was.

As for Muirfield and the HCEG, they will say it is a private club and they can do what they want. Fair comment. But this is about them, as an Open venue, understanding their influence on the game and its reputation.

In the second-most-predictable golf news item of the day, the R&A waited just 12 minutes to announce Muirfield will be placed back on the Open rota.

“Muirfield has a long and important history of hosting the Open and with today’s announcement that will continue,” said chief executive Martin Slumbers.

“It is extremely important for us in staging one of the world’s great sporting events that women can become members at all of our host clubs.”

This is the same R&A, remember, who themselves didn’t admit women members until 2014.

They are right, though. Muirfield is a glorious golf course; a joy both to play and to watch the pros take it on in major championship conditions.

But that’s not a good enough reason to abstain from our principles.

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