GOLFING legend Gary Player has criticised First Minister Alex Salmond for his decision to stay away from the Open in protest over the tournament being hosted by a men-only club.
Mr Salmond had said that he would not be attending the prestigious event at Muirfield in East Lothian later this week, as the membership policy was “indefensible in the 21st century”.
But Player said the First Minister was wrong.
The three-times Open winner said: “He is wrong because every place you go to you can find something to demonstrate against, and this is what we are finding in the world today.”
Citing Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King as examples on how to bring about change, he said the First Minister should engage with the club.
“Don’t protest, communicate,” Player said. “Show love and understanding and that is the best way to go about change, and change is the price of survival so I am very much for it.”
Muirfield insists the men-only policy conforms with the Equality Act of 2010. It does allow women to play, but only as visitors or guests – they cannot become members. The club has said it would be down to its members to change the policy.
Asked what he thought of Muirfield’s men-only stance, Player, 77, initially said that it was a private club whose members were “entitled to what they like”. But the South African invoked former British prime ministers in an apparent criticism of the club’s policy. He said: “My great hero Winston Churchill once said change is the price of survival. And you have lady presidents in the world today, you have lady prime ministers, as one of my other great heroes was Mrs Thatcher.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Gary Player is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen and is of course entitled to his views.
“However, when Scotland has the privilege of hosting the biggest tournament in the golfing calendar it does become an issue of public interest and it is quite right for the First Minister to make his views known.”
She added: “We hope that in the weeks and months ahead Muirfield will reconsider its position and take steps to ensure equal access for women.”
World number one Tiger Woods also refused to criticise Muirfield yesterday. Asked if he felt there was a moral difference between a golf club excluding members based on their gender or their race, the three-times Open winner said: “I don’t make the policies here. I’m not a member so I’m not going to speak for the club.”