Date: May 20, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

R&A drops men-only Muirfield from Open rota

The R&A has reacted swiftly to Muirfield’s ongoing ban on female members, dropping the Scottish club from The Open Championship rota.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers overnight voted against admitting women, with marginally less than the two-thirds majority wanting to change a 272-year-old policy enforced at the privately owned club.

Amid widespread disbelief at the vote’s failure, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers announced the club’s run as a 16-time host of the oldest major championship was, temporarily at least, finished.

“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,” Slumbers said.

“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.”

That decision was met, broadly, with respect and agreement by several of the world’s leading golfers.

Notably, Gary Player, who won the first of his three Open titles at Muirfield in 1959, could not condone the club’s decision.

“As much as I love and respect Muirfield as a club where I won the Open, I totally agree with the R&A that staging the championship at any venue that does not admit women is simply unacceptable,” Player wrote on Twitter.

“I hope Muirfield will reconsider their position soon and continue hosting one of the world's greatest golf events.”

World No.3 and fellow Open champion Rory McIlroy also backed the R&A’s stance.

“They (Muirfield) can do what they want but, in this day and age, it's not right to host the world's biggest tournament at a place that does not allow women to become members,” McIlroy said.

“Hopefully they can see some sense and we can get it back there one day.

“The R&A did the right thing. It's 2016 and we have to move with the times. It's taken long enough.

“Bigger picture, it's a great golf course, but there's so many other great golf courses that we play on the Open rota that we're not going to miss one. I think it's more their loss than it is the R&A's or our loss.

“If that's what they want to do, obviously it's a free world and they can do that, but they must have known that it was going to cause this sort of controversy.”

The decision was always going to be tight – and controversial.

It was not helped earlier this week when a club letter to members regarding the vote made its preference known.

“It is recognised that it is a very sensitive matter and the club is in a difficult position, but associations like ours with a very long and venerable history have strengths which are derived from that history,” it wrote.

“Change must come slowly and for choice should be evolutionary. A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.”