Muirfield vote undoes good work for golf’s image

The Muirfield vote not to admit women members has undone the positive work to improve golf’s image, argues Glyn Pritchard.

So the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield had their say on accepting women members and then came the inevitable backlash. Here’s just a taste:Glyn_Pritchard Newsletter photo

“There are plenty of things I feel angry about being excluded from as a woman, but mind-numbingly parochial discussions while moving at the pace of a slug across a never-ending landscape of well-manicured undulating fairways isn’t one of them.” – Celia Walden, Daily Telegraph.

“I would rather rip my own eyeballs out than join a place where men like Peter ‘Ladies’ Alliss are allowed to lick the furniture.” – Camilla Long, The Sunday Times.

The comment about Peter Alliss was in response to his helpful remarks that, “There’s a very nice drawing room in the clubhouse at Muirfield. It was full of ladies and I suggested what great times were coming, saying that they’ll be able to join the club. And there was a look of horror on the faces of the ladies, ladies whose husbands are members. I was met with, ‘good Lord, we don’t want to be members. If we join, our husbands will have to pay thousands of pounds for our entry fees and our subscriptions. We can come here and do what we want now for nothing’. The women who are there as wives of husbands, get all the facilities. If somebody wants to join, you better get married to someone who’s a member.”

It’s hard to know if the venerable Alliss believes this stuff, or at 85 and with no career ambitions left, he simply enjoys stirring the pot. There were some mitigating circumstances to the vote. By a simple majority of 397 to 219, the members DID vote to accept women but this majority only came to 64 percent, just 14 votes short of the two-thirds majority required by the Club’s rules to change the membership entry status. Club secretary Stuart McEwen said the outcome was, “a blow to the club, the local community and Scotland”. Women can already play Muirfield as guests and visitors and it’s reported that there are 22 women-only golf clubs in Scotland – Muirfield isn’t exactly a one off.

But all that was lost in the howls of protest that greeted the vote. All the great work done over recent years to promote golf as inclusive, feminine friendly and non-elitist was undone at a stroke, despite the fact that the R&A quickly announced that Muirfield would be removed from the clubs on The Open Championship roster with immediate effect.

Muirfield has hosted the Open 16 times, and there’s a suspicion that some of the members voted against women membership precisely because they disliked the disruption caused by hosting the Open in 2013 when Phil Mickelson won. In 1923 Troon was used instead of Muirfield when, as reported in The Times in 1922, “some doubts exists as to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers being desirous of their course being used for the event”. Now voting against admitting women has killed two birds with one stone.

What seems to have tipped the balance against accepting women was a letter circulated by the ‘against’ campaigners which centred on the tradition of foursomes played at the club: “We are not an ordinary club. Our special nature; ‘a gentleman’s club where golf is played’ is quite unique with its fraternity built inter alia on foursomes play with a round taking only the same time as lunch and leaving enough time for a further round after lunch (even in mid winter). This is one of the miracles in modern day play and is much admired. Our foursomes and speedy play would be endangered.”

Personally I dislike foursomes as a format (and greensomes come to that) and the idea that you need to cram in two rounds of foursomes plus lunch seems a strange reason for keeping women members out, especially as women can already play the course. But this esoteric point about golf formats was lost on the general public and on feminists. The damage was done with golf’s critics once again able to portray the game as stuffy, elitist and out of touch.

However, this year the Glastonbury festival has announced a venue called the Sisterhood, described as a ‘revolutionary clubhouse’ open to ‘all people who identify as women’. In his comments on the Muirfield vote Peter Alliss said, “I want to join the WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service] but unless I have a few bits and pieces nipped away on my body I’m not going to be able to get in.” If he doesn’t want the snip, perhaps he could just identify as ‘trans’ and crash the Sisterhood?