Why The British Open Host Still Excludes Women

Even though Augusta National changed with the times, Muirfield is sticking to its men's only policy for members

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Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Justin Rose of England hits a shot on the 18th ahead of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 17, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.

The 142nd British Open tees off today at the home of Scotland’s Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield. But rather than celebrating the display of the world’s oldest golfing club hosting golf’s oldest major, media attention has focused on Muirfield’s membership policy: females are not allowed.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond confirmed over the weekend that he would not be attending the tournament, saying that “it’s just indefensible in the 21st century not to have golf clubs open to both males and females.” He insisted back in June that the sport’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient, should pressure Muirfield to change its rules in time for the tournament, a suggestion that Peter Dawson, R&A’s chief executive, said would amount to “bullying” of clubs.

The club itself has stayed fairly quiet on the matter. It issued a statement through a public relations agency saying that it “welcomes women to play either as visitors or guests year round”. Muirfield has also pointed out that it has played host to many women’s tournaments, including the Curtis Cup.

In a press conference on Wednesday Dawson promised that the R&A will take a look at the issue. Dawson stated that attempts to draw a comparison between men-only clubs and clubs organized by race were “absurd.”

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“I don’t really think, to be honest, that a golf club, which has a policy of being a place where like-minded men or, indeed, like-minded women, go and want to play golf together and do their thing together ranks up against some of these other forms of discrimination,” said Dawson. “I really just don’t think they’re comparable, and I don’t think they’re damaging.”

Dawson defended the 269-year-old club’s right as a private-members organization to limit membership by gender—a choice that around thirty golf clubs in the U.K. have chosen to do, half of which are for only women, says Dawson. Muirfield is not the only club on the Open’s rota of nine venues that denies membership to women: both Royal St. George’s and Royal Troon are also all-male clubs.

The pressure on the R&A to act on discrimination is stronger after Augusta National, home of the Masters tournament, made history last year when it admitted its first female members to its inner sanctum: Condoleeza Rice and Darla Moore. It’s unclear whether the 80-year-old club has decided to extend invitations to any more female members as it does not reveal information about new members (despite its very public exception for Rice and Moore). Though the club’s move to accept female members has been widely applauded, it does send out mixed messages that only women as powerful as a former U.S. Secretary of State and billionaire could make the cut for an all-boys club.

For women in the sport, the issue of all-male clubs hosting tournaments such as the Open is not necessarily among their first priorities. Shona Malcolm, the chief executive of the Ladies Golf Union, is more concerned with lack of media coverage of the women’s game. And that sadly, is a charge that can be leveled against sports journalism as a whole, not just golf.

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9 comments
GolfClubCentral
GolfClubCentral like.author.displayName 1 Like

Why - because it's their right and the clubs heritage which should mean more than political correctness. There are private men's clubs and private women's clubs so get over it and move on!

kentford
kentford

Well I truly believe The Honourable Company's goose is now cooked.  I don't think they will ever change their constitution but with the UK Prime Minister David Cameron now forced to comment plus his partner in the UK Government Nick Glegg of the Liberal democrats, Andrew Lansley the Leader of the House at Westminster, the Culture, Media & Sports Secretary to the Cabinet and her Opposition counterpart all joining the debate in criticizing Muirfield, I don't think they will ever host an other Open. Remember all this started with a few people daring to go up against this dinosaur like never before.  All credit to Scotland's First Minister for leading the political charge. Now let's watch the golf.......

BorisIII
BorisIII like.author.displayName 1 Like

Women and men do lots of things with just women or just man all the time.  Women's hiking group, etc.  But this guys club is so big and fancy women want to join it also.  I can't blame them looks like a lot of fun.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

the problem isn't with the club, they should be allowed to be male only if they want, it's a private club. people should be focusing their "anger" at the PGA, seeing as how they chose to hold the event there

kentford
kentford

The Honourable Company's attitude to women, employees, the rest of the non-membership population and incredibly, PROFESSIONAL golfers, is legendary and as a private members club that's their business.  When their venue is chosen the host an international event that's our business.  These issues weren't even being talked about last time the Open came to town so there is a change afoot.

Junk.Mail
Junk.Mail

Mehhh. It is not like women are being excluded from the sport or relegated to a second tier of infrastructure. It's a club, and clubs often aim to restrict membership to homogenous individuals for many reasons. There are plenty of women only clubs, especially fitness clubs.  Cannot see how this is different.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Junk.Mail 

because it's men only and for some reason that's 10 times worse than women only

kentford
kentford

Good to see that at last even the BBC is commenting on this issue.  Great to see the British Open being held in Scotland but the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers and The R&A need to take note that now this crack has appeared in their formerly impregnable dam, more and more right minded people are going to agree with the First Minister of Scotland.  These guys can do what the like within their private club, I'm sure they have checked the letter of the law. It is a different matter entirely when the venue is hosting an international sporting event. Muirfield has the eyes of the world looking on this week and an increasing number of people are talking about the need for change if they are to host another Open.

cranky
cranky

@kentford You could not be going far enough.....maybe its time the LPGA opened up itself to allowing men to compete or the likewise for the PGA to open up for woman to compete. It is a private club, get over it.

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