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NEWS: Muirfield Takes Mulligan, Votes In Women

Women can join Muirfield and the club is back on the Open Championship rota and could possibly be hosting the oldest major in golf as early as 2022 or 2023.

The results of what was Muirfield’s second vote on allowing female members were read out Tuesday by Henry Fairweather, the club captain. In 2016, the club failed by a mere 14 votes to get the requisite two-thirds majority. This time around, the result was a resounding 80.2 percent, or 498 in favour, and 19.8 percent, or 123 against. No-one was more relieved than Fairweather, who recognised only too well that the very public outcry surrounding last year’s result had done no good to the club’s reputation.

Within half an hour, Martin Slumbers, the Chief Executive of the R&A, put out a statement to confirm that the club was back in favour. “Muirfield,” he said, “has a long and important history of hosting the Open and with today’s announcement that will continue. Muirfield is a truly outstanding Open venue and we very much look forward to taking the championship back there in future.”

Slumbers went on to say that it was “extremely important” for the R&A that women were free to join all of the Open venues something which, with Muirfield coming to heel, is now the case.

No-one was more shocked than the Muirfield hierarchy when they failed to get the requisite majority a year ago. Though Fairweather and his committee had encouraged the membership to vote in favour of women, a group of dissidents had popped up at the last minute. They gave others to believe that women would not be up to coping with the men’s speedy (under three hours) foursomes/match-play format. And, still worse, that they might not approve their luncheon arrangements. (Would they be expected to forgo their normal four-course meals in favour of salads?)

Quizzed Tuesday on the question of the foursomes/match play, Fairweather said, lightly, that there would be no tests in place to see if the women were, so to speak, up to speed. However, he confirmed that they would need to play at the traditional pace and, where necessary, they would be getting the same reminders as are issued to the men.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister who had strongly disapproved of the “no” vote of 2016, was among the first to comment on Tuesday’s results. “Well done Muirfield. Look forward to seeing you hosting the Open in the near future.”

When to Expect the First Female Members

Gentle fun will almost certainly be poked at the club on the matter of when the first women will make their appearance Fairweather said that he would expect to be welcoming this new breed within two or three years. Yet in this day and age, any kind of positive discrimination might lead to trouble. OK, the R&A got away with fast-tracking a group of women but how could anyone be certain that Muirfield might succeed on that score?

Some would-be men members remain on Muirfield’s waiting list for six or seven years, though it seems that the calibre of the applicant, or perhaps his golf, can make a difference.

There were women visitors on the course Tuesday, while the club is holding the East Lothian Ladies’ Spring Meeting on Monday 24 April. Those of the original 130 who make their way through the qualifying stages will hold their quarter-finals the following Sunday and their semi-finals and finals on Monday 1 May.  Even before that, there will be the annual 10-a-side fixture between the men of Muirfield and a side of leading women, led by a former Curtis Cup golfer in the person of Maureen Madill.

The wrought-iron gates were open Tuesday and there was a friendly following wind to welcome the media for their 11:30 meeting. In the old days, there would have been representatives from The Times, The Telegraph and other such well-established titles filing through the doors.

This time around, there were all sorts of new outfits, including Buzzfeed. “What was that?” queried one of the members doing the meeting and greeting. The new-media man repeated it but, even before he had finished, the member was apologising profusely. “Buzzfeed,” he said. “Of course I know it.”

Twenty years ago, that would have been enough to have him booted out of the club.


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