It was the decision we were all expecting. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield have voted to allow female golfers. This really came as no surprise as the members voted for the second time.
The private members club rejected the move the first time around. If they voted for women to be allowed to play on their course the first time around then perhaps we could have called the move a step in the right direction. But they didn’t. Instead, they were slammed by the media as an institution whose beliefs were that of the past. It didn’t look good for them at all and the image of golf was one that many do not subscribe to.
This time around they have done it. But can we really call this move a move towards equality?
The answer is pretty much...no. This was not done with equality at its heart. Instead, this was all about other matters.
Following the rejection of female players after the first vote in 2016, the R&A were left scratching their heads. It was a dilemma for them as they aimed to bring golf into the 21st Century. Their aim is to bring more women into the game and remove any constraints. Muirfield was being as pain in their rear. How could the Open be staged at a place where the views of the club were firmly stuck in the 19th Century?
The answer was to remove Muirfield from the Open rota. The R&A’s move worked as Royal Troon were to have a similar vote just before they stage the Open in 2016. The fear of losing the Open in the same way Muirfield did, was enough to jolt the members into action. The vote was passed at Royal Troon in a heartbeat.
Losing the Open was the R&A’s carrott, it really was the only bargaining chip they could have. With the Open of course, comes the prestige and more importantly...the money. Marketing, exposure, tourism and television deals all make their way to the host of the Open and also to their local economies. 173,000 fans attended the Open at Royal Troon in 2016 delivering more than £110 million to the local economy. Not bad for a week.
Imagine losing that when your time to host the Open came around? That is how significant the threat from the R&A was. Do you vote for your values or do you vote for the Open?
This is why we all knew the result would be different this time.
80.2% of the members voted in favour of allowing women to join their club. That leaves 19.8% who will view every female with disdain as they play at Muirfield. Progress? Not really.
What we all did not expect was just how quickly the R&A would be in giving the Open back to Muirfield. Within moments of the second vote’s results, Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A released his statement on the matter.
The Open is back on at Muirfield. But should we really be celebrating that? If anything, the quickness of the R&A to put Muirfield back on the rota shows that the deal was already done. It’s an attempt to get the whole issue out of the news as quickly as possible.
So before we all raise a glass to celebrate another success for equality in our game perhaps we should view it as the old boys club looking after each other. Money talks, The Open brings the club prestige and the last thing on the club’s mind was the issue at hand. Maybe they should have another vote. Next time they should vote on a name change and reconsider the word “Honourable” in their name.