MUIRFIELD took the first step towards allowing women members yesterday after the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews decided to hold a vote on changing its men-only policy.
In a rare public announcement, the club that owns Muirfield, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG), revealed members were being consulted about the policy, which prompted First Minister Alex Salmond to boycott last summer’s Open Championship at the East Lothian venue.
However, Royal Troon – the next men-only golf club set to stage the Open – defended its policy yesterday.
While it is likely to be a decade before Muirfield hosts the championship again, Royal Troon is slated to host it in 2016, by which time Open organisers the R&A could have women members yet will be taking the world’s oldest major to a men-only club.
In a statement, the HCEG said: “A working group has been empowered to consult with the membership and to make recommendations to the board about our future. As a club, we comply fully with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and there are no current plans to change the membership criteria, but these will be reviewed.
“HCEG confirms we are already well into the process of preparing to consult with our members to gauge the best way forward. Most importantly, we intend to take the time to ensure that the plans we adopt will stand us in good stead for the next 270 years of our great club.”
Founded in 1744, the HCEG played on Leith Links then at Musselburgh before moving to Muirfield in 1891. It is one of three men-only clubs on the Open rota – Royal Troon and Royal St George’s being the others – and has apparently become entrenched in its men-only stance. The review of membership policy follows the arrival of Stuart McEwan, a former general manager at Kingsbarns and, more recently, director of golf at Gleneagles, as club secretary.
Although R&A chief executive Peter Dawson insisted the move by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to hold a vote on 18 September on admitting women members was not intended to pressure men-only clubs on the Open rota, such an interpretation was unavoidable.
David Brown, secretary at Royal Troon, said the Ayrshire club had “no comment at this stage” on whether or not it intended to conduct a similar membership review to Muirfield’s. However, he defended the scenario where two clubs, Royal Troon and Troon Ladies, cohabitate and share courses.
“It is not quite the same here as Muirfield,” he said. “It is slightly different due to the fact we have Troon Ladies, a club which has 370 members. They also play on all the courses, including Royal Troon.”
Shona Malcolm, chief executive of the St Andrews-based Ladies Golf Union, believes the Ayrshire club has a point as its set up is exactly the same as Royal Aberdeen, where the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is being held for the first time in July.
“I’ve got a degree of sympathy with Royal Troon,” she said. “Royal Aberdeen [has] a men’s club and ladies’ club yet no-one is getting too upset about that and rightly so. It’s not much different at Troon, where the ladies have their own club but play the big course with no real restrictions.”
She welcomed the R&A’s move to admit women members for the first time in its 250-year history and was happy they will be proposed by the membership rather than being hand-picked, as with Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, and businesswoman Darla Moore, who became Augusta
National’s first women members 18 months ago.
“We are supportive of decisions being left within memberships of clubs and this is a positive move for golf, both in terms of governance and perception,” said Ms Malcolm, who is also a former chairwoman of the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association.
“This has been on the go for some time so it did not come as a surprise to me. It’s a bit anachronistic and we would all rather be talking about golf rather than gender issues.”
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is consulting on allowing women members at men–only Muirfield, top right. However, Royal Troon, above right, defended its policy
TWO FOR TEES
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the R&A are two separate organisations.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has governed the rules of the game since 1754. It has been traditionally referred to as ‘the R&A’ by abbreviation.
But in 2004, the Club founded a new body which it named The R&A, to which it devolved the administration of the game and the annual Open championship. This body is not men-only.