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A Former LPGA Pro On Why This Golf Club’s 273-Year Ban On Women Isn’t Really Over

Muirfield votes to finally allow women, but I have doubts

A ladies locker room sign inside Muirfield Golf Club. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Muirfield Golf Club of Edinburgh, Scotland, voted to allow women as members of the prestigious club yesterday. This comes almost after a year of scrutiny and criticism—when in May 2016, they voted to uphold their 273-year ban on women.

So why, after not allowing women since the club’s founding in 1744 did the men at Muirfield suddenly decide women could join their little club of prestige?

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]In reality, Muirfield acted on their own behalf, not on women’s behalf.[/quote]

Look no further than the R&A, the governing body of golf in the United Kingdom, which told Muirfield that until it allowed women, it could no longer host the Open Championship, one of golf’s most esteemed majors.

Some criticized the R&A, stating it had no place to put pressure on Muirfield since it is a private club, and private clubs can make their own rules. Which is true; private clubs can do as they please. However, with every action there is a positive or negative consequence. This is the same as people who say racist and bigoted things in private and lose their jobs when their personal views come to light.

In reality, Muirfield acted on their own behalf, not on women’s behalf. Apparently, losing the Open Championship was too much for most of the men to handle, with 498 members voting in favor of allowing women. However, there were still 123 votes against any changes.

Henry Fairweather outside Muirfield Golf Club. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Henry Fairweather, the captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns and runs Muirfield, said, “We look forward to welcoming women as members who will enjoy, and benefit from, the great traditions and friendly spirit of this remarkable club."

So, there are a few key things I want to know:

1) When will they start inducting women as members? According to Fairweather, “Our members were quite clear that they wanted women to be treated not in any artificial way and they will have the same admissions process as men.”

This means a potential six to seven year wait for any women who apply for membership. This is a an important distinction that needs to be addressed. You can’t just say that you will welcome female members if you have no intention of doing it right away.

2) Will women receive full membership benefits? Many clubs still prohibit when women can play, even if they are members. The women golfers are restricted to designated times so that they don’t get in the way of the men who are playing.

3) If Muirfield is truly interested in spreading the tradition of their club and the game, how will they reach out to women? Will they give honorary memberships to a few high-profile women or will they host women’s events to attract women to their club?

4) When will the R&A consider hosting another Open Championship at Muirfield again? The earliest that Muirfield could be in rotation for the Open is 2022, but will they host that soon considering the six to seven year wait that women will potentially face to become members? Or will the R&A wait to see how many female members Muirfield actually allows or whether the club is proactive in its approach to reaching women?

This last question is probably the most important one that needs to be answered. We cannot simply reward Muirfield with hosting one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments just because they changed the vernacular of their rules. Action will have to back up Muirfield’s claim that they will welcome women with open arms.

Until then, I will sit back and wait to see how Muirfield will uphold its promise to value women as equal members of their club. Hopefully, the R&A will wait too.

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