May 21st, 2016
Ed's Letter: GolfPunk's Muirfield verdict
Warning: May contain sarcasm. And nuts.
Words: Tim Southwell Photography: Getty Images
When I was a 16-year-old junior member at my golf club in Sussex, I remember several occasions when, before I was able to drive myself the five miles to and from the golf course, my mum or dad would come and pick me up. If it was my dad who came he would come and find me in the bar, most likely buy me a coke and slip in a cheeky pint for himself and we’d be on our way.
If, on the other hand, it was my mum who came to pick me up, I would often be completely unaware of her arrival until one of the members came into the bar and told me she was here. See, I would always be in the Men’s bar, no women allowed. So my mum would have to stand around in a ‘holding area’ outside the bar until someone walked past and she could ask them to go in and get me. God forbid she put her head around the door. There’d be a committee meeting before you could say ‘twats’.
A bit like when we were kids back in the day and our parents would go into a pub and send us out a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps in the back yard to keep us entertained while they were drinking mild and Baileys inside.
There was, of course, a good reason why kids couldn't go into pubs. It was against the law. Women not being allowed into a private club’s bar was, on the other hand, an arbitrary decision made by a committee (of men) who wanted to protect their right to hang out exclusively in the presence of other men.
That could, if you thought for longer than a milli-second, strike you as a bit weird. Men who only want to be with other men. Even as a truculent 16-year-old I found it a bit embarrassing and, yes, a bit weird. But then you’d go to other golf clubs and it would be exactly the same.
Then the Spice Girls landed and changed everything with their intricate doctrine of Girl Power’. Suddenly golf clubs were forced to reconsider their policies. I mean, what if Posh and Sporty wanted to come in for a pint of cider and a bag of pork scratchings?
Whatever the real reasons for Men’s bars becoming near obsolete – possibly in order to ( 100 years late mind) bring clubs into line with general post-Sufferagette thinking – they did, reluctantly, become mostly obsolete.
They didn’t go quietly, though. I remember going back to my club after living in London for 15 years and almost dropping my bacon sandwich when I walked into the same bar. There were two women – real live women – drinking at the bar. Maybe things really have changed, I thought. I took a seat next to them and began chatting, asking about their round etc, when I noticed in prime position on the display wall, a wooden cross with the words ‘R.I.P. Men’s Bar 1925-1994’. Lest we forget those who had sacrificed so much.
When Muirfield declared war on the female species by voting against letting in women members this week, no one was particularly surprised. The Gullane club, with its incredible golf course and rich history of Open winners (think Player, Nicklaus, Faldo) has turned itself into a modern day golfing outpost.
Why they even bothered having a vote this week owes more to a judicial obligation to be seen to be ‘following best practice, and operating in the 21st Century’ than anything else. Even the percentage of the vote stinks of a set-up. 64% in favour of widening the membership, 36% against. Just enough in favour to placate the ‘outsiders’ and suggest that Muirfield is becoming more progressive, but not enough to actually do anything about it.
Announcing the results on the steps of the clubhouse on Thursday morning, the Muirfield captain, Henry Fairweather, said that the policy complied “fully with equality legislation”, and insisted that women remained welcome as guests.
In truth, Muirfield are a bunch of leaden-footed traditionalists. A bit like the shop keeper in League Of Gentlemen who is so entrenched in maintaining the status quo of parochial village life that, every time a stranger unwittingly walks into his emporium of doom he enquires in a sinister voice: “Are you... local....?”.
Just like the strangers in League Of Gentlemen who ‘go missing’, Muirfield’s desperate opposition to change results in a fair amount of collateral damage.
Evidence this. It emerged after the vote that a group of about 30 Muirfield members had written anonymously to fellow golfers before a ballot, urging them to reject the change. They weren’t even prepared to see what came of a free vote. The letter argued that “a traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation”, and stated that “the introduction of lady members is bound to create difficulties”, suggesting that women’s presence would “endanger foursomes and speedy play”.
It went on: “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).”
‘Our special nature’... brrrrr...., creepy isn’t it. Women would ruin Muirfield’s special nature...
Admit it, lads, what the Muirfield 30 were really saying was this:
Women are different to men.
They look funny.
They talk about dresses and hair and stuff.
They’d giggle in the bar.
They’d embarrass us by asking for cocktails like ‘Slow Comfortable Screws’ at the bar.
They’d play too slowly.
And, as for welcoming women as guests, just ask the female executive of the European Tour how welcomed she was when she had to eat in the Muirfield kitchen at the staging of a Senior Open Championship because she wasn’t permitted in the clubhouse.
Listen, love, this is a men-only establishment. Go and perm your hair somewhere else.
Scotland’s three female party leaders have repeatedly challenged the men-only policy and suggested they would be unlikely to attend any tournament held there. TV presenter Clare Balding revealed that she had refused to host coverage of the championship when it was last held at Muirfield in 2012 because of the club’s stance.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first female first minister, described the vote as indefensible. Responding to the news on Twitter, she said: “Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible.”
Royal Troon, which will host this year’s Open in July, is the only other male-only Scottish club on the tournament’s rota, and it is undertaking a review of its own membership policy. The main difference between Muirfield and Troon are that Troon has a Ladies Club (set up just four years after the men’s club in 1882), which shares facilities with the Mens Club, They have separate club houses (they’re not that progressive) and Royal Troon will host the Open jointly with the women’s club.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Royal Troon captain, Martin Cheyne, said of the policy review: “We care very much for the reputation of Royal Troon golf club and it is important the club, much like the wider game, reflects the modern society in which we exist.”
Which kind of leaves Muirfield out on a limb.
Martin Slumbers Chief executive of the Royal & Ancient 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.”
If this was a ‘normal’ person talking it would have read something like this:
“Jesus, not the Muirfield Massive again. These people. Sod it, if you can’t even allow the ladies in you can take your Open credentials and stuff them right up your proverbial. We’re not having our prize asset, The Open, tarnished by you geriatric half wits.”
Slumbers goes on: “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.”
AKA: “You’ve got two hopes of staging the Open now, Muirfield – Bob Hope & No hope. You useless, Empire-harboring, gin-soaked cretins, you’re making us all look bad. Four words: Let. The. Birds. In!”
When the R&A give you a pasting, you know you’re on your own. And the R&A are right – in an era of golf supposedly moving heaven and earth to attract new people to the game, Muirfield sticks out like the sorest of thumbs. Potential golf recruits, the young, women, working class, take one look at golf and the unfortunate headlines of this week and they see elitism, exclusivity. Where else do they see that? Where else is it tolerated?
Golf will be at the Olympics this year. Women will be playing. It is 2016.