Once more it’s the game of golf that’s the loser in Muirfield saga

The Scoop

Golf is finally filling column inches, but Muirfield's female member vote is dragging golf's reputation through the mud, writes NCG editor Dan Murphy.

I’m pleased that we can once again look forward to the world’s best golfers tackling the magnificent Muirfield links in the Open Championship – but that’s about it for good news in what has been a thoroughly sorry saga.

Once more, golf’s reputation has been dragged through the mud as the (all-male) members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers reconsidered their decision last year to reject a proposal for female members to be allowed.

That 2016 vote was met by an R&A announcement that the Open would not be held at any club, private or otherwise, with a single-sex membership policy.

Since the Open was so memorably last played at Muirfield, in 2013, Royal St George’s, then Royal Troon and now the Honourable Company have all reconsidered their all-male membership policies.

A coincidence? I’m not sure any could claim entirely altruistic reasons.

Cue open season on golf as a whole, with those who love nothing more than to stick the boot in given ample opportunity to do just that.

Many golfers, myself included, would argue that the level of coverage this issue attracts is disproportionately high, with any number of chancers and bandwagon-jumpers only too happy to claim to be outraged and add their often barely considered two-penneth.

But we may as well be spitting into a three-club wind.

It is depressing but true that this story is front-page news wherever you look, while in almost any other circumstances golf struggles to find space even in the sports section.

It all feels so avoidable. I do understand the argument about private clubs being entitled to do as they please. But I had hoped that the members at these special, Open-hosting clubs would have recognised their elevated status and felt they owed it to the game in its broadest sense not to bring the sport into disrepute.

Or, better still, have willingly concluded themselves that times change and in the 21st-century it is no longer socially acceptable to discriminate on the basis of gender.

I very much include the R&A in this, who themselves only admitted their first female member as recently as 2014. It’s a bit rich that within two years they were telling the likes of Muirfield that they would have to change if they wanted to keep hosting the Open.

By the way, I’d make the same argument when it comes to female-only golf clubs. They also belong to a bygone age in my opinion.

There is, though, one significant difference – namely that all-female clubs only came about in the first place because the men had already formed their clubs and otherwise the women would have had nowhere to go.

Muirfield's 18thI digress. Whether or not your own views correspond with mine on this topic, we can surely agree that the net result is golf being less appealing to those outside the sport.

If your view was already that the game is elitist, snobby and old-fashioned then it will hardly have been changed for the better by watching this play out.

Some might not care, but for those of us who would like to see the game reverse its current decline, and for numbers to grow again, the narrative will have to move on beyond tedious votes about what half the population is or isn’t entitled to do at golf clubs.

And this is the real shame. Yet again, we are mired in matters that as far as I am concerned are nothing whatsoever to do with the things I love about the sport.

Golf is about skill, patience, strategy, nerve, finesse, honesty, competition and determination, played out against an ever-changing landscape.

It really isn’t about gender, social class or how many rules it is possible to break between arriving in the car park and stepping on to the first tee. Sadly, though, too many potential new recruits never get to the game itself.

What a crying shame.

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