FIRST Minister Alex Salmond last night revealed that he will not attend the Open Championship at Muirfield this summer as he underlined his opposition to male-only golf clubs.
Despite being a self-confessed golf fan, Mr Salmond said he would not be at the world’s prestigious tournament when it is held at the famous East Lothian links next month.
The First Minister said he wished everyone involved “all the best” for the championship, but he would not go to the event hosted by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield, a club without any women members.
Although Muirfield appeared to be out of bounds for the First Minister, his spokesman said that Mr Salmond planned to go to the Scottish Open, which will be held at Castle Stuart on the Moray Firth, in the run-up to the Open.
“The First Minister will be attending the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart near Inverness, as he did last year when the meetings he held at the event helped secure hundreds of jobs for the Highlands,” his spokesman said.
“The Scottish Open is being held the week before the Open Championship, and the First Minister will not be at Muirfield, but he wishes everyone involved all the best for a great tournament.
“His views on single-sex golf clubs are well-enough known, but we are sure this year’s Open will be another fantastic advert for Scotland, and we expect tourism minister Fergus Ewing to attend for the Scottish Government.”
In the past, Mr Salmond has made his views on single-sex golf clubs, like Muirfield, clear.
In July 2008, it was announced that the St Andrews-based Ladies Golf Union had lifted a ban on taking female tournaments to men-only clubs, such as Muirfield and another Open venue Royal Troon. At the time, the First Minister remarked: “It might encourage them [the clubs] to change their ways. I’d rather not go any further, but I think it’s pretty clear from the comment I made where my sympathies lie.”
In 2009, the First Minister called on the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to address its failure to offer Dr Louise Richardson, the principal of St Andrews University, membership.
Although Dr Richardson is not a keen golfer, it was pointed out that membership of the Royal and Ancient was bestowed on her male predecessors at the head of Scotland’s oldest university as a matter of course.
Reacting to the R&A’s failure to offer Dr Richardson membership at the time, Mr Salmond said: “The Royal and Ancient Golf Club should follow their long-standing practice of offering membership to the principal of St Andrews University, and I am sure that after due consideration they will continue with that honourable tradition.”
Mr Salmond is a keen golfer. One of his boyhood heroes was John Panton, the famous Ryder Cup golfer who was honorary professional to the Royal and Ancient. Last year the First Minister led a £470,000 delegation to the Ryder Cup in Chicago.
All-male clubs which host the Open, such as Muirfield, Royal Troon, Royal St Georges, Sandwich, and the Royal and Ancient – which has become a separate entity to the game’s ruling body now known simply as the R&A – have come under criticism for the make-up of their membership.
The United States Golf Association does not allow clubs with single-sex policies to host the US Open.
Last year, one of the last bastions of male membership – Augusta National, home of the US Masters – bowed to pressure and finally admitted its first lady members.
The club responded to a welter of criticism by inviting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first women to wear the famous green jackets which signify membership.
Earlier this year Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality, urged single-sex clubs to think “long and hard” about retaining their membership policy.
In April, Ms Miller said: “Golf clubs are private clubs and it is for them to set their rules and that’s absolutely how it should be. But with golf being a growing sport that women want to participate in I really think that clubs that take that attitude [of not allowing female members] should be thinking long and hard about where they go in the future.
“If they want to be successful in the future they should be reaching out to women and really looking how they can involve them.”
No-one at Muirfield was available yesterday to respond to Mr Salmond’s comments.
Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, has previously defended clubs’ right to decide their own membership policy.
Earlier this year Mr Dawson said that the idea that the game’s ruling body might threaten to remove the Open from a club like Muirfield was “frankly a bullying position that we would never take”.
“There is nothing wrong under the UK legislation with a single-sex club as long as they behave under the Equality Act as far as guest access is concerned, which Muirfield certainly does,” he said in April.
“Muirfield has a huge history of the Open Championship – this will be the 16th time it has been played there – and who are we to say what they should do because they are behaving perfectly legally.
“Personally, I think this idea that it sends out a dreadful message to the world is considerably overblown, but that is my own opinion. We don’t see it as our role to attack golf clubs which are behaving perfectly legally.”