Muirfield will go straight back on to the Open Championship rota if members of the East Lothian club vote in favour of admitting women in a second ballot, despite R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers acknowledging that last year’s no vote created “negative press for golf right around the world”.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns and runs Muirfield, announced last week that its 750 male members have begun voting in a postal ballot and have been urged to give the proposal “unanimous” backing.
The result is due to be announced in the middle of next month and will determine if the venue is reinstated to the rota for the game’s oldest major, having been dropped from the list by the R&A straight after the initial vote failed to secure a two-thirds majority.
“I was very pleased with them having a second vote,” said Slumbers, speaking at a media briefing today in St Andrews. “I think Muirfield is a wonderful golf course. It’s a great Open venue, and I’m very pleased that they’re going through that process. We’ll wait and see the outcome of the result, which will be, I’m led to believe, sometime before the end of March.”
He added that a “yes” vote would lead to the R&A reconsidering Muirfield’s position as an Open Championship venue – it has staged the event 16 times, most recently in 2013, when Phil Mickelson claimed the Claret Jug – and that decision would be made “very quickly” once again.
Speaking after the first vote, former Open champion Rory McIlroy said: “They (Muirfield) can do what they want, but in this day and age it’s not right to host the world’s biggest tournament at a place that does not allow women to become members. Hopefully they can see some sense and we can get it back there one day.”
Asked what he felt that initial vote had done to golf’s reputation, Slumbers said: “Well, I think there was a lot of negative press right around it, and I’m very open in saying that we believe that golf should be open to all, regardless of gender, sex, religion or nationality.
“I think it created quite a lot of disappointment around the world with some of the best players when Muirfield was no longer going to be on the rota, but it’s a matter completely for the club. It’s none of my business.”
Slumbers said he felt it was “always important to look forward” in reply to being asked if he felt a yes vote on this occasion would reverse any previous reputational damage to the the game. “I don’t want to prejudge a result of the second vote,” he said. “I think we’ll have that conversation in March when the members of the club make their own decision.
“But the more the game is open, the more the game is looking at families, the more the game is looking at encouraging younger people, the better. I’m a big fan of seeing it being as broadly played and encouraged as it can be.
“With respect to The Open, we were very, very clear very quickly last year, and because The Open is one of the world’s greatest sporting events, we hold it at a level that is representative of that aspiration.”
Slumbers, who was delighted when Royal Troon voted unanimously to open its doors to women members just before last year’s Open Championship, said he’d met with the Muirfield club captain, Henry Fairweather, “many times” since the first vote last May and admitted the move to get the new ballot had been discussed.
“We talk to all our venues all of the time and we hosted the Boys Championship at Muirfield last year,” he said. “We have stayed in close contact with Muirfield.”
Asked if he believed Muirfield officials felt more confident about getting the required support for the proposal on this occasion, Slumbers added: “I’m very conscious that a lot of things that the captain and the committee have
said to me are personal and confidential and I think it is important to protect those relationships.
“But I don’t think the club would have gone out if they didn’t feel that this was something that’s important to them.” However, if the vote is no again? “For us the position would be unchanged,” admitted Slumbers.
The earliest The Open could return to Muirfield is 2022 as it has been announced that Royal St George’s will follow Royal Birkdale, Carnoustie and Royal Portrush on the rota by hosting the 2020 while the 150th staging is almost certain to be at St Andrews in 2021.
The event will be returning to the Kent venue for the first time since Northern Irishman Darren Clarke lifted the Claret Jug in 2011.