Storm brewing over Muirfield’s men-only membership
A storm is brewing at Muirfield.
Not of the weather variety that reduced the world’s top players
to jibbering wrecks when the British Open was last held there in
2002. But the kind of storm that has erupted at a number of majors
in recent years, relating to the barring of female members at clubs
hosting golf’s biggest events.
The 2013 host Muirfield is one of three courses on the Open rota
– with Troon and Royal St. George’s – to have men-only membership,
an attitude that has been widely criticized as not only out-of-date
but damaging to the reputation of the sport.
Augusta National, home of the Masters, used to have the same
policy until it decided last year to invite former Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to
become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932.
It was seen as a key move – ”important to golf,” Tiger Woods said
at the time.
The R&A, organizer of the British Open and also a male-only
membership organization, isn’t for turning however. And things
could get heated this week as the world’s oldest major returns to
Muirfield in east Scotland, where women are allowed to play and
have access to its facilities but can’t take up membership.
Some prominent politicians won’t be attending this year’s event
”I just think it’s indefensible in the 21st century not to have
a golf club that’s open to all,” said Scottish First Minister Alex
Salmond, a huge golf fan who played a round with Phil Mickelson in
the pro-am before the Scottish Open this week.
Salmond attended the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s,
but said Saturday he didn’t realize at the time that the club had a
Two British government members – Maria Miller, the Culture,
Media and Sport Secretary, and sports minister Hugh Robertson –
have also turned down invitations to attend.
”I would really encourage the R&A, when they next come to
allocate the Open, to look at this, simply because of the message
that it sends out,” Robertson said in Sunday’s Daily Telegraph.
”It just looks very, very out of touch and old fashioned in the
Robertson acknowledged that private clubs are within their right
to have the single-sex policy, but added: ”In my mind, the problem
comes when that private club fulfils a public function, which any
golf club does when it hosts The Open.”
Members of the R&A, notably chief executive Peter Dawson,
will be put up in front of the media on Wednesday – a day before
the Open begins. It could be some grilling.
Dawson has defended the decision of his organization to select
Muirfield, formally known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh
Golfers, as the host of the 2013 Open.
”I don’t deny my job would be made a lot easier if this issue
didn’t exist, that’s self-evident,” Dawson said in April. ”But
one might choose to respect the wishes of members of these clubs,
which are virtually unanimous in a place like St. Andrews, that the
status quo works extremely well for them.”
Dawson has also said that telling Muirfield that it can’t host
the Open unless its membership policy changes is ”frankly a
bullying position that we would never take.”
The issue has been given fresh impetus in Britain in the wake of
a sexism row that blew up at Wimbledon last week.
A BBC Radio presenter, John Inverdale, was condemned for
comments directed at French player Mario Bartoli as she prepared
for Saturday’s women’s singles final, which she won in straight
”Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little,
`You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so
you have to be scrappy and fight,”’ Inverdale said.
He has apologized. But the incident is fresh in the mind of many
as sport’s latest sexism debate winds its way to Muirfield.