Storm brewing over Muirfield's men-only golf membership

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 4:48am

A storm is brewing at Muirfield. Not of the weather variety that sent scores soaring in the third round when the British Open was last held there in 2002. It's the storm that once erupted at Augusta National for the Masters before it had female members and made a brief showing when the Open was held at Royal St George's two years ago.

Muirfield is one of three courses on the Open rotation - Royal Troon and Royal St George's are the others - that have a men-only membership, which has been criticised as being out-of-touch and damaging to the staid reputation of the sport.

I just think it's indefensible in the 21st century not to have a golf club that's open to all
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which runs the British Open and itself is a men-only membership organisation, isn't budging. And the topic likely will get even more attention this week when golf's oldest championship returns to Muirfield, where women are allowed to play and have access to its facilities. But they cannot be members.

Some prominent politicians won't be attending this year's event in protest. "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.

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. "It just looks very, very out of touch and old fashioned in the post-Olympic era."

Members of the R&A, notably chief executive Peter Dawson, are to face the media tomorrow for its annual news conference. Dawson has defended the decision of his organisation 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."