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Vote 'opens doors to rival courses'

Muirfield to hold emergency talks over ban on women


Muirfield Golf Club has called a meeting to consider the ramifications of its controversial decision to exclude female members.

It is understood that the matter will be discussed at the end of the month following worldwide condemnation of last week’s vote.

Captain Henry Fairweather is said to be keen to keep the issue alive after the committee’s recommendation for a change in membership rules was narrowly rejected.

Particular concern among the club’s senior officials focuses on an announcement by the Royal & Ancient, the sport’s governing body, that Muirfield will never again host the Open Championship unless it reverses its men-only policy.

The decision was criticised for sending a damaging message to the rest of the world, according to a business representative.

Apart from its impact on the image of golf it also undermines effort to portray Scotland  as a modern thinking nation, said Gordon Henderson of the Federation of Small Businesses.

He told Daily Business that it negates a campaign to promote East Lothian as the Golf Coast.

“The golf industry got together through years and years of hard work to form the Golf Coast initiative which has been hugely successful and it has not been helped by this decision,” said Mr Henderson, senior development manager at the FSB Scotland.

“We want East Lothian to be seen as a modern place in which to do business and this is a major setback.”

The Open is worth an estimated £100 million to the economy and Mr Robertson said the ban on Muirfield would open up opportunities for other Scottish courses to be included on the rota.

“You do not kick out one of your jewels without replacing it. For other golf clubs this must be a fantastic opportunity,” he said.

The vote hinged on just 33 of its 648 members voting against a recommendation for change. While a majority backed the committee, the vote fell short of the required quota.

Condemnation of the decision was led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who described it as “indefensible”.

Iain Gray, Labour MSP for East Lothian, has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament calling for the club to “consider the decision again” after earlier declaring the decision a “disaster”.

Scottish professional Catriona Matthew tweeted she was “embarrassed to be a Scottish woman golfer from East Lothian after that decision”.

Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn tweeted “Muirfield couldn’t join us in the 21st century”.

However, BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss suggested women who want to join Muirfield should “get married to someone who’s a member”.

His view was in the minority. The sport’s governing body, the Royal & Ancient at St Andrews, said the Open Championship would never again be played at Muirfield while the ban on women existed.

However, it was not clear why it has not applied this rule to Royal Troon which has a similar ban and will host this year’s Open.

Rory McIlroy, the former world number one and Open champion, told The Guardian that it damaged golf’s image.

“It’s 2016 and times move on. Women make more than men these days. I think everyone should have the opportunity to join a club if they want to,” he said.

Sturgeon tweet

He agreed that the Open should not be held at a course which excludes women, though he also made no reference to Royal Troon.

First Minister Ms Sturgeon expressed outrage at the decision after the ballot failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to change the rules.

Ms Sturgeon, unable to conceal her dismay, called for the vote to be overturned. In a tweet she said: “Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible.”

The Royal & Ancient declared that Muirfield would not be considered in future as a host venue for the Open until it changed its policy.

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said: “We will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members.”

The R&A at St Andrews overturned its own men-only policy in 2014 after 260 years.

Muirfield has hosted the Open Championship 16 times in its 272-year history, most recently in 2013.

The Muirfield club committee recommended allowing women to become members, and although a majority of those who voted supported the change – 397 (67%) – there were 219 (35%) votes against, which fell short of the required quota.

Salmond screen shot

Club captain Henry Fairweather said: “Our club committee recommended our members should vote for the admission of women. Women have played golf as guests and visitors since at least 1904, according to our records.

“The majority of members did vote for women as members but the two-thirds majority that we require for a change in the rules was not met. The club will retain its male only policy.

“The members decide the rules, it is a members club. Women will continue to be welcomed at Muirfield and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors.

“The committee recommended that we admit women members so, yes, I am disappointed with the result.”

TroonThe vote coincides with Royal Troon (right) hoping to defuse a growing backlash over its own men-only membership policy ahead of this year’s Open Championship.

Troon club captain Martin Cheyne has already announced that it is consulting with its 800 members to gather their views on whether or not to admit women. Yesterday he wrote to them saying the club had to consider its place in “modern society”.

The Ayrshire club already shares facilities with Ladies’ Golf Club Troon but they have separate clubhouses.

Royal Troon and Muirfield are the only clubs on the 10-strong Open rota to retain a male-only membership policy after Royal St George’s in Kent admitted women last year.

Mr Cheyne said in his letter: “As we look forward to jointly hosting the Open Championship later this summer, the Committee of Royal Troon Golf Club continues with its process regarding the Club’s Future Membership Policy and is cognisant of the recent articles in the press and social media, the public discussion surrounding the club, and the statements made by senior politicians.

“We are acting to better understand the views of our members, which will in turn inform the decisions we take. We care very much for the reputation of Royal Troon Golf Club and it is important that the club, much like the wider game, reflects the modern society in which we exist.

“We have today written to all of our members to understand their views and feelings on the issue of the admission of women to the Club. We expect to have a clearer sight of those opinions in the weeks ahead and will make further statements in due course.”

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