On the afternoon of Saturday, July 20, 2002, a cold squall blew in off the North Sea, hammering the village of Gullane, Scotland, with raindrops the size of .50 caliber shells and wind that, quite literally, blew people off their feet.
The oldest golf tournament in the world was being held at the time – the Open Championship at Muirfield. Tiger Woods, who had won The Masters and U.S. Open earlier in the year, shot 81. He tied David Toms, Mark Calcavecchia, Stephen Ames and Steve Stricker. Colin Montgomerie and Lee Janzen shot 84. Stewart Cink shot 80 and Ian Poulter, who had fewer than nine holes remaining when the storm hit, shot 78.
No one who was caught out on that miserable afternoon, whether playing or spectating, will forget it. But for a few of us, one image from that Saturday stands above all others. In the clubhouse dining room, which has windows on three sides looking to the first tee as well as the ninth and 18th greens, members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers sipped tea and laughed at us. A few just shook their heads and smirked, dandruff falling like snow onto the shoulders of their threadbare wool jackets. Most pointed to the most miserable among us, reveling in their status as one of the Chosen Few deemed worthy of membership.
Well, we won’t have to worry about a repeat of that scene. Ever.
The members at Muirfield voted “No” today on a resolution to accept women as members. Several UK outlets report that the group of members lobbying against accepting women wrote a letter that stated, in part, “A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.”
Fair enough. It is a private club and its members can do as they please.
But other people have choices, too. In this case, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, itself a little late on the female member front, has chosen not to bring its largest event back to the shores of Gullane until the policy changes.
In a statement, the R&A said: “We have consistently said that it is a matter for the Honourable Company to conduct a review of its membership policy and that we would await their decision.
“The R&A has considered today’s decision with respect to the Open Championship. The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members.
“Given the schedule for staging the Open, it would be some years before Muirfield would have been considered to host the Championship again. If the policy at the club should change we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for the Open in future.”
That’s how markets work. Group A chooses its own policies and Groups B, C and D choose whether or not to associate with them.
Let’s be clear: Same-sex clubs are fine. Boys should not force themselves into the Girl Scouts. But if you don’t want to buy the Thin Mints because of their “exclusionary” policy, that’s your choice.
Each case is different. The Junior League is different from Augusta National; Promise Keepers is different from the Formby Ladies Golf Club. Intelligent people can discern these differences and make judgments accordingly.
As for Muirfield, it was the best golf course on the Open Championship rota, run by the biggest group of jerks.
Good riddance. Come back when the “Honourable” in your title actually means what it says.