Mar 16th, 2017
Rory McIlroy calls Muirfield Obscene
Blimey, a tour pro with attitude!
Words: Tim Southwell Photography: Getty Images
Good work Rory. Finally – a famous golfer who has an opinion about stuff that affects everyone....
Unlike his predecessor as the world's best known golfer – Mr 'No Opinion About Anything' Tiger Woods – Rory McIlroy has done us all a favour and proven that golfers aren't just a bunch of remote superstars who live in a bubble and never say anything vaguely interesting or controversial.
Following Muirfield's reversal of the men-only policy, McIlroy has come out and called the whole Muirfield situation "obscene".
The members voted more or less 80/20 in favour of letting women join the club, so any woman who does join, knows that about 130 odd die-hards still hold a grudge against the female race, so be careful who you order a G&T for in the club house.
"I still think that it got to this stage is horrendous," said Rory.
"We'll go back and play the Open because they'll let women members in, but every time I go I won't have a great taste in my mouth."
Members at the privately owned golf club voted 80.2% in favour of updating its membership policy on Tuesday.
"I mean, in this day and age, where you've got women that are leaders of certain industries and women that are heads of state and not be able to join a golf course - I mean, it's obscene. It's ridiculous. So they sort of saw sense."
Talking of the 20% who still voted against women becoming members, McIlroy said: "It's horrendous. I mean, I just don't get it.
"So anyway, we'll go back there for the Open Championship at some point and I won't be having many cups of tea with the members afterwards."
The Muirfield area stood to lose over £40m in revenues if it lost the Open. Now that would have been obscene.
Which brings us nicely to Editor's Letter on the subject...
Lorks a Lordy, as if there weren't more pressing matters at hand, Muirfield are in the news again as they announce they've gone berserk and allowed females to be admitted to their club.
You might remember, last year they had a vote – after a lengthy two-year consultation process which no doubt involved a lot of lunch and guffawing about how slowly women play – but the result was fairly predictable. 64% voted in favour of allowing women into the club, but the Muirfield constitution requires that two-thirds of its eligible voters were required to pass the bill.
The May motion fell 10 votes short of admitting female members and Muirfield was promptly informed by the R&A that they could kiss goodbye to ever holding another Open.
Some of us, the R&A included, are trying to make golf more accessible and fun. Some of us are trying to offer up something that will entice young people to get into the game.
But all anyone ever talks about is bloody Muirfield's painful efforts to drag itself into the 20th century (no point mentioning the 21st century, Muirfield has yet to ratify a motion to allow it to start yet).
So they needed another 10 votes to get this over the line. Let's think, how could they persuade The Muirfield 10? What do old men, who like hanging about with other old men, like?
- They like a good lunch.
- They like gin and whisky.
- They like talking about the good old days when people knew their place, had no ideas above their station, and the sun never set without asking permission first.
So, give them a good lunch, let them talk about how great things were in the past and then get them so tanked up on gin they tick the wrong box when voting. Hey presto, women are 'allowed' into the golf club.
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 ‘Eton Mess’.
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 back in 2016, no one was particularly surprised. The Gullane club, with its incredible golf course and rich history of Open winners (think Player, Nicklaus, Faldo) had turned itself into a modern day golfing outpost.
A favoured retreat of the Edinburgh judiciary, Muirfield has pretty much done what ever it fancied over the years, despite coming under the scrutiny of the world’s media every time the Open rolled into town.
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....?”, before plotting their gruesome demise.
Just like the strangers in League Of Gentlemen who ‘go missing’, Muirfield’s desperate opposition to change resulted in a fair amount of collateral damage.
Evidence this. It emerged after last year's vote that a group of about 30 Muirfield members had written anonymously to fellow golfers before the 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 hosted last year’s Open in July, was the only other male-only Scottish club on the tournament’s rota, and undertook a review of its own membership policy, resulting in a July vote that reversed its men-only policy. Even so, there were differences between the two clubs – Troon already had a Ladies Club (set up just four years after the men’s club in 1882), which shared facilities with the Mens Club. They have separate club houses (they’re not that progressive) and Royal Troon hosted the Open jointly with the women’s club.
In a statement, 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.” On July 1st, just in the nick of time before the Open three weeks later, the vote was cast. Which left Muirfield out on a limb.
When Muirfield voted against women members in 2016, 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, Slumbers' statement 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 went 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.”
After Muirfield's vote to finally allow women members earlier this week, the R&A immedialtely announced that Muirfield would be getting the Open back after all. Straight away. Just like that. No cooling off time required. No period in the dog house.
Despite everything Muirfield had done to sabotage golf's reputation around the world: Potential golf recruits, the young, women, working class, were taking one look at golf and the unfortunate headlines Muirfield kept spewing up and they saw elitism, exclusivity, mad, archaic attitudes. Where else do people see headlines like that? Where else is it tolerated? Nowhere. Not in the western world.
So now it's over. The men-only golf club looks like it's well and truly done for, stacked in the same shelf of Room 101 as the Black & White Minstrels and the Cold War.... Oh, hang on....
Anyway, Muirfield has changed and they're back in the R&A's good books now. But like Rory, I'm not sure we'll be queuing up for fancy sandwiches any time soon.