Scottish Golf, the unified body now running the amateur game in the sport’s cradle, could be set to follow the R&A’s lead by refusing to take events to Muirfield as long as it remains a men-only club.
The R&A responded swiftly a week ago to Muirfield failing to secure a two-thirds majority for a proposal to admit women membership by dropping the East Lothian club, where the Claret Jug joust has been staged 16 times, from the Open Championship rota.
Expressing support for that decision by the St Andrews-based governing body, chairperson Eleanor Cannon has now dropped a strong hint that Scottish Golf will be doing likewise less than a year after its men’s flagship event, the Scottish Amateur Championship, was held for the eighth time at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
“That’s something we are going to consider,” replied Cannon to being asked if Scottish Golf would follow the R&A’s lead on not staging tournaments at single-sex clubs in the future. “We’re meeting on Monday and that’s one of the things on the agenda because we’ve got to decide what our response is.
“I’m delighted that (R&A chief executive) Martin Slumbers took the stance that he did, I think it’s what the game needs. Let’s be clear, this is about giving women the choice to join a club that benefits from the extraordinary privilege of hoting the most fantastic of championships.
“We respect all of the single-sex clubs - men and women - they have every right to be there. But, when it comes to the Open Championship what Martin has said is absolutely spot on. It has to be at a club that’s inclusive and we completely support that. This is very clearly all about inviting women to have the choice to join an Open Championship club on exactly the same terms as men.”
Cannon, a senior partner at the Rubicon Partnership, a Glasgow-based executive coaching practice, expressed concern over the Muirfield vote being rejected despite it receiving the support of the majority of its 750 members. “I think they have to look at the situation very seriously and say to themselves, from a governance point of view is it right that a minority vote can determine the future health of this organisation, both from a commercial point of view and from a reputational perspective,” she added.
“Right now they are simply one of 20 male-only clubs in Scotland - and for clarity there are 25 female-only clubs in Scotland - and now what they have become in the space of a week is simply another all-male club. They are not elite any more and they have got to look at the consequences of that and decide what they are going to do about it. The responsibility sits with the Muirfield board for that and I would very much like to see them take a courageous set of decisions over the next few months. I think Muirfield have a lot of things to think about right now. If they want to be back on the Open Championship list, they’ll have to think long and hard about their constitution.
“All of our clubs, all 608 of them, are facing challenges every day and Muirfield is just another one of those clubs. They all face cultural challenges, membership challenges and the issues that volunteers who run boards face every day.We have to put it into context. This is one of 608 clubs and the fantastic work that’s going on at ground level by people who love the game and want to grow the game simply cannot be diminished by the recent press about Muirfield.”
Royal Troon, where the Open Championship is being held this year, announced last week that it had written to its 800 members “seeking views on the issue of the admission of women members as part of a membership review that started a year past January. “I think that was the right thing to do on the back of all the negative publicity that they were experiencing,” observed Cannon. “They enjoy an incredibly positive relationship with the Troon Ladies’ club - 180 of the members are married to each other.
“They have done a lot of work in terms of developing young into the game and they were watching with absolute sadness as the press unfolded and they wanted to do something about it. They have read what people have had to say internationally and they haven’t liked it. They have worked so hard to get this Open staged and they don’t want all that work to be in vain. What they want is the Open Championship to be about golf.”