Muirfield members vote against allowing female golfers to join - concerns raised over lunching arrangements and slow play
'It will take a very special lady golfer to be able to do all the things that are expected of them'
Members of Muirfield - the self-proclaimed "home of the honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers" - have voted against allowing women golfers to join the Open Championship venue.
It will remain a male-only club after failing to reach the two-thirds majority required to change the club's membership policy.
The club held a ballot of its 750 members which returned 616 votes, representing 95% of the membership.
A leaked letter revealed that there were concerns over "slow play" and lunch arrangements during play.
Some 387 members, or 64%, voted in favour of admitting women and 219, or 36%, voted against.
Muirfield, owned and run by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, has been reviewing its criteria for two years and the results of a postal ballot of the club's members was announced by captain Henry Fairweather.
The club in Gullane, East Lothian, last staged the Open in 2013.
Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible. https://t.co/qrULGuFG8v— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 19, 2016
Club captain Henry Fairweather defended the outcome of the vote.
He 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.
However, the decision was labelled as “simply indefensible” by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who wrote on Twitter: "Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible."
Reacting, the R&A which organises the tournament said the venue had been stripped of its open status with immediate effect.
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: "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.
"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.
"Given the schedule for staging The Open, it would be some years before Muirfield would have been considered to host the Championship again. If the policy at the club should change we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future."
One of the concerns of the men at the club was that women could not grasp the concept of playing golf before and after lunch.
The Scotsman revealed that a group of 30 male members had fronted a “no” campaign, stating in a letter: “It is recognised that it is a very sensitive matter and the club is in a difficult position, but associations like ours with a very long and venerable history have strengths which are derived from that history.
“Change must come slowly and for choice should be evolutionary. A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.
“Regardless of the conventions when they first join they are likely over time to question our foursomes play, our match system, the uncompromising challenge our fine links present, our lunch arrangements,” the letter continued.
“It will take a very special lady golfer to be able to do all the things that are expected of them in the template which is suggested and the ladies’ membership as a whole may not meet this standard.”
he letter adds: “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.”
Muirfield remains one of just two golf courses on The Open Championship roster to reject female members, along with Royal Troon – which has written to its 800 members to raise the possibility of a similar vote after hosting this year’s Open in July.