Golf legend takes swing at Muirfield's men-only policy

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GARY Player made history by becoming the youngest Open Championship winner when he lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 1959.

But now the golfing legend has hit out at the men-only policy of the club where he triumphed 50 years ago.

The South African has expressed his disapproval over the club's long-standing policy of not admitting women as members, stating: "I don't see the point of excluding any member of society."

Player spoke out as he prepares to return to the East Lothian course to host a charity tournament.

The 73-year-old made it clear that he was distinctly uncomfortable with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers' single-sex policy.

Player, who was 23 when he lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield, said: "One thing travel has taught me is to have respect for other people's point of view but I have to tell you, I do not agree with (the policy].

"Golf would not be the game it is without women. Winston Churchill said that change is the price of survival. I agree with that. I just don't see the point of excluding any member of society."

The veteran added: "That policy is their business. It's a decision they've made and they've got to live with it.

"I have designed many golf courses all over the world and I wouldn't like to think any of them would exclude women."

Speaking of many visits to the course over the years, Player said: "It's a very special place for me. I won my very first Open there and I have a lifetime of memories of Muirfield.

"You must be very careful not to put your nose into other people's business, but I wouldn't do it (exclude female members].

Club secretary Alastair Brown was taken aback by Player's comments. He said: "We are a private members' club and we conduct our own affairs. We don't have lady members, but ladies play here every day as guests.

"I'm interested in Gary's comments. His views haven't stopped him from returning to the club with a group of people in a week's time."

Player is due to host a sponsors' day at Muirfield on Monday next week to commemorate the half-century that has elapsed since his Open triumph there. The following day he will host the Gary Player Invitational at nearby Archerfield.

Celebrities taking part in the tournament include rugby greats Gavin Hastings and Ieuan Evans, former footballers Trevor Steven, Mark Bright and Russell Osman, ex-world snooker champion Dennis Taylor and former British tennis number one Jeremy Bates.

All money raised from the event will go to underprivileged children in rural South Africa.

Muirfield is due to host the Open for the 16th time in 2013 and the event will doubtless draw more attention to the club's single-sex rule.

When the tournament was last held in East Lothian in 2002, a number of wives and girlfriends of top players publicly expressed disapproval.

Mia Parnevik, wife of Swedish ace Jesper Parnevik, said at the time: "To say to people, 'No women and dogs allowed' is ridiculous in the 21st century."

Alex Salmond, a keen golfer, has urged Muirfield and other clubs to change their ways.

The First Minister said of the possibility of the Women's British Open taking place at Muirfield: "It might encourage them to change their views."

This year, Salmond said the Royal and Ancient Golf Club – which has never had a woman member – should allow recently appointed St Andrews University principal Dr Louise Richardson to join. The club denies discriminating against her.

In the 1970s, Player was condemned as a "traitor" by South Africa's apartheid regime after he invited the black American tennis champion Arthur Ashe and the black golfer Lee Elder to play there.

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