London - Golf clubs such as the hosts of this year's British Open, Muirfield, and the game's spiritual home St Andrews, are damaging the sport's reputation by remaining men-only, a British charity that promotes women's participation in physical activity said on Wednesday.
"While it may be lawful for private member clubs to remain men-only, it is clearly damaging to the sport's reputation that these two iconic clubs don't allow female members," said the chief executive of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF), Sue Tibballs.
"Not only is it ridiculously outdated, it sends out completely the wrong message to women and girls thinking about taking up the sport.
"A number of golfing bodies are working very hard to break down the traditional perceptions of the sport and encourage a new generation of female participants, and these clubs do nothing to help that cause."
Muirfield, a links course east of Edinburgh, can trace its history back to 1744 and this year hosts the Open for the 16th time since 1892.
St Andrews, up the coast north of the Scottish capital, has hosted the Open 28 times since 1873. It is considered "the home of golf" and the game has been played there since the 15th century.
The 144th edition of the championship will be played at St Andrews in two years' time.
Gender equality has long been a thorny issue in golf and it was only last year that the Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the annual US Masters, admitted its first female members after pressure from campaigners.
"If the Augusta National Golf Club recognises the reputational damage that excluding women has, then it is time the Members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield also joined the 21st century," said Tibballs.
But golf's governing body, the R&A - which is separate from the Royal and Ancient club - said it would not "bully" male-only private golf clubs into admitting women.
Three of the nine courses on the Open Championship rotation are male-only - Muirfield, Sandwich in Kent, southeast England, and Royal Troon, western Scotland - while the Royal and Ancient also does not allow women members.
The chief executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, said: "There are no golf courses I know about which are closed to either women or men. Access to these courses exists," he added.
"Muirfield has hosted the (women's) Curtis Cup twice; women have access as visitors or guests of members.
"There are about 3 000 courses in the UK and one per cent have a single-sex membership clause. Of that one per cent, slightly more than half are women-only. They don't want to change...
"To think the R&A might say to Muirfield you will not host the Open unless you change is a bullying position we would never take... It's not our role to attack clubs that are behaving legally."