European Tour

Muirfield loses Open after rejecting women

2016-05-19 18:30
British Open (Getty Images)

London - Historic Scottish golf course Muirfield lost its status as a British Open venue and provoked a storm of criticism after voting not to admit female members on Thursday.

A proposal to allow female members did not receive the required two-thirds majority needed, with 387 members -- or 64 percent - voting in favour and 219 members - or 36 percent - voting against.

The R&A, the sport's joint-ruling body with the United States Golf Association, reacted immediately by announcing that Muirfield will no longer be selected as a venue for the Open, the oldest of golf's four majors.

"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," said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers in a statement.

Scotland's political leader, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, branded Muirfield's decision "indefensible" and it was slammed by leading golfers including two-time Open-winner Padraig Harrington.

In an open letter to members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG), the club, located to the east of Edinburgh, had recommended that they vote in favour of the resolution.

But after the postal ballot of members failed to reach the required threshold, the R&A, which encompasses the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, announced that it was dropping Muirfield from its 10-course Open venue roster.

"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," Slumbers said.

"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."

But he added: "If the policy at the club should change, we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future."

Announcing the result of the ballot, Muirfield captain Henry Fairweather said: "The Honourable Company is a members club, and, as such, the members decide the Rules of the Club, including its membership policy.

"Women will continue to be welcome at Muirfield on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors, as they have been for many years."

Sturgeon wrote on Twitter: "Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible."

David Evennett, Britain's acting Minister for Sport, said it was "an extremely disappointing decision" that sent out "completely the wrong message".

Ireland's Harrington, Open champion in 2007 and 2008, told reporters at the Irish Open: "That's the reality of the world. If you want to hold yourself out there, you have to give an equal chance to everybody.

"Muirfield may go ahead and say we want to just be a small golf club and mind their own business and that's fine, but minding their own business isn't holding the Open, is it?"

Paul Lawrie, Open champion in 1999, said Muirfield's decision was "just not right".

Ruth Holdaway, chief executive of the Women In Sport charity, described the decision as "dreadful" and urged current members to leave the club in protest.

Women have played golf at Muirfield since 1904.

Women's and men's single-sex golf clubs, although reducing in number, have been a feature of golf provision in Great Britain and Ireland and comply with equality legislation.

Muirfield has staged the Open on 16 occasions since 1892 and most recently in 2013, when America's Phil Mickelson won. It was due to host the Open again in 2023.

Royal Troon, the venue for this year's Open, is also an all-male club. It will vote later this year on whether to become a mixed club.

Two years ago, St Andrews chose to admit female members for the first time in its 260-year history, with Royal St George's in Kent following suit last year.

Read more on:    golf

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