The consequences of Muirfield's no women vote

As Muirfield says no to women members, The R&A is right to confirm that unless this changes, The Open will not be revisiting the famous East Lothian links…

Muirfield 18th green and clubhouse
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As Muirfield says no to women members, The R&A is right to confirm that unless this changes, The Open will not be revisiting the famous East Lothian links…

Today has not been a great day for golf, with the news that a ballot of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ 750 members has failed to return the two-thirds majority required to allow women members into the club.

In the modern era, most, if not all, will find it hard to fathom how they could possibly have come to that decision, especially knowing that it could have severe ramifications for the club's Open Championship prospects going forwards.

It's hard to imagine they thought they might be collectively calling The R&A's bluff over the issue to see what the response would be, but The R&A has moved on a long way over the matter of women members, and a clearly worded statement from new chief executive, Martin Slumbers, has confirmed what the vast majority of the population and golfing world believe to be the correct response – no women members, no Open Championship:

“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.”

It seems a last-ditch letter from Muirfield’s ‘no’ campaign was sufficient to sway the floating voters, with many commentators prior to the vote believing that the club would surely now feel honour-bound to do the right thing given The R&A’s historic vote to admit women members in late 2014.

Muirfield now finds itself out on a limb along with this year’s Open venue, Royal Troon, where a review is well underway over the same issue, with word circulating that the members are being strongly encouraged to vote yes. Unlike Muirfield, Royal Troon does at least have a separate women’s club, with which the main club co-hosts The Open.

I have chatted with many people about this over the years and have often had it pointed out, especially north of the border, that the majority of golf clubs in St Andrews are single-sex one way or the other, so why can’t we just live and let live?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, the real problem is that those clubs are not hosting golf’s oldest and most famous championship, governed and run by an organisation, which, for the good of the game, can simply no longer afford to be associated with clubs that exclude women.

Slumbers, in his short tenure, has made it clear that this simply cannot be allowed to happen going forwards, hence The R&A’s response to this morning’s vote.

It is the right response, and as Slumbers says, the timing is as good as it can be for Muirfield, with a considerable number of years remaining before it would next be due to host The Open.

However many years that may be, let’s hope it proves sufficient time for its members to come to their senses, so the fine links at Muirfield can remain one of The R&A’s chosen ten.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response