Leaders: Muirfield must value progress over tradition

HISTORIC golf club's decision to remain men-only is disappointing, but it is not too late for its members to embrace change

Captain of the Club, Henry Fairweather makes the announcement to refuse women entry to the club in front of the Muirfield Clubhouse. Picture: Jon Savage

With such a grandiose title, it is not unreasonable to expect an organisation called the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to make good on its virtuous name. This storied committee, with a history stretching back to 1744, has long prized itself as an innovator. It forged the original 13 rules of the game of golf and convened the meeting in 1919 which saw the Royal & Ancient take over the administration of the Open Championship. Regrettably, its pioneering impulses belong firmly to the past.

The decision by Muirfield to persist with its men-only membership policy is wrong. It claims to have protected its traditions, but the price it stands to pay will be severe unless its members embark on some soul-searching.

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On Wednesday it emerged a group of around 30 members of the East Lothian course had written to their fellow golfers urging them to maintain the status quo. The correspondence stated that “a traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation”.

Stubbornness has never formed the cornerstone of any sensible argument. Instead of presenting a proper case for the status quo, the cabal of members favoured obstinacy. It is entirely in keeping with its approach throughout a two-year-long consultation process. At no time has it offered a sensible justification for its membership policy.

Regrettably, the letter’s authors found sufficient favour to ensure they won the day. Yet the long game is only beginning. It is not only the golfing world that will stand up and take notice of its resolution. The issue concerns society as a whole and Muirfield’s hallowed reputation stands to suffer. Not only has it lost its place on the prestigious Open circuit, but it is now a beacon for inequality. The club will now become tainted, the hard-earned prestige will diminish. It will become simply a byword for intransigence and discrimination.

Surely it will not just be visitors who will think twice about travelling to such a club and endorsing such a regime, but some members must now surely be questioning continued association with a club with such a stance. The club the majority of members have such loyalty to, the club they seek to preserve and uphold, will be irreparably damaged.

The members should pay attention to the torrent of condemnation directed towards the club from many from the First Minister down. The club’s decision is out of pace with the modern world.

Criticism applies not only to its adherence to its discriminatory policy, but its governance procedures. Out of the 616 members who voted some 397 – a clear majority – voted for the resolution but this fell two percentage points short of the two-thirds majority required to enact change.

Surely the majority of members who voted for change can persuade the others of the damage done to their club and get them to understand how best to protect it and sustain it, and allow women members.

Tobacco firms fight a losing battle

The resources at the disposal of the world’s biggest tobacco firms mean that, whenever they eye up a legal fight, they are inordinately well placed to finance their battle courtesy of a phalanx of well-heeled lawyers. It has paid off handsomely in several instances, but their failure to overturn new plain packaging rules is as predictable as it is welcome.

The High Court’s ruling that the new regulations are “valid and lawful in all respects” is common sense in action. A considerable body of evidence exists attesting to the benefits of plain packaging. It reduces smoking rates and, crucially, curbs the impulses of younger generations to take up the habit.

Unsurprisingly, countering such research was not the crux of the case put forward by the tobacco giants. Instead, they argued that the legislation would destroy their valuable property rights and render products indistinguishable from each other.

If there is any argument that is inconsequential in the drive to improve public health, it is the one concerned with intellectual property. The firms submitted that the state had “unlawfully expropriated” its rights, a stance that is not only cynical, but legally flimsy.

Rightly, the judge, Mr Justice Green, dismissed their claim for compensation, ruling that the regulations were “justified and proportionate in the public interest”.

This represents the latest blow for the tobacco lobby, coming after Europe’s highest court recently rejected a series of legal challenges.

The fight will no doubt continue of course. Japan Tobacco International has already announced its intention to appeal, for instance. But the industry has picked a losing fight. It should respect the court’s decision.