Muirfield members rejected a proposal to admit women at the historic East Lothian club because they did not like the “media telling us what to do” and wanted to “prove a point”.
In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, a high-profile member of the No campaign within the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers also described criticism of the club by the likes of Rory McIlroy following last Thursday’s controversial vote as “ridiculous”.
Former Scotland rugby player John Douglas, 81, said: “It wasn’t so much a vote against the ladies as a vote against the media and the press telling us what to do. No-one likes being hammered all the time.”
The 12-times capped international also enjoyed a memorable success as a racehorse owner when Rubstic became the first Scottish-trained horse to win the Grand National at Aintree in 1979. He added: “We knew what was going to happen with the R&A and The Open, but we feel that we had to prove a point with a strong bunch behind the vote. We were quite pleased to win the final vote, but it is sad in a way as some of the ladies who work in the offices and elsewhere in the clubhouse have received horrible phone calls. I feel sorry for the committee and it (the fallout from the vote) will all have to come to a halt sometime to allow the committee to relax a bit.”
Following a two-year membership review, a proposal by the Muirfield committee to open its doors to women received backing from the majority of its 750 members but fell 14 votes short of securing the two-thirds majority required. The decision followed a 33-strong group including John Douglas putting their names to a letter sent to all members outlining the “risks” involved in allowing women members. Following the vote the R&A responded immediately and stated that Muirfield, where the event has been held 16 times, was being dropped from the Open Championship rota.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon labelled the club’s stance “indefensible” while culture minister Fiona Hyslop said “in terms of our international profile it paints a completely distorted picture of modern Scotland”. Iain Gray, the former Scottish Labour leader, has tabled a motion at Holyrood calling on the club to reconsider its stance “at the earliest opportunity”.
World number three Rory McIlroy also joined the chorus of criticism and urged the club to “see some sense”.
He said: “I think for golf’s image, as we are trying to break out of this stuffy, old image. We are trying to become more with the times and trying to do things to make golf faster, make golf cooler, make more people included. It’s not right to host the world’s biggest tournament at a place that does not allow women to be members. Hopefully Muirfield can see some sense and we can get it back on The Open rota.”
Responding to such criticism, Mr Douglas, who played for Scotland between 1961 and 1963, said: “It is ridiculous. You have Augusta with two women members and how can people like Rory McIlroy challenge us yet he goes and plays there. Is he telling everyone he is happy with two women being admitted there after all these years and it is now a mixed club... come on. These players are two-faced. Who are they kidding? It is a total farce.”
The Scotsman understands that Henry Fairweather, the club captain, and his committee are meeting at the end of this month to discuss the response to the vote.