Male-only Open venues

Added on May 26th, 2016 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, TV Coverage

Update on Muirfield vote, August 2016

The pull of history in hosting The Open Championship to the members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, may be enough to swing a second vote at Muirfield, which is reported to be taking place by October.

The club, (whose course is considered by many to be the finest Open venue, with its high content of fine fescues/Browntop bent grasses in the greens, fairways and roughs, giving firm and true ‘running-golf’ surfaces) if it votes to accept women members, it is reported by Lewine Mair, likely to also ask for a new contract with The R&A more in favour to the host club and with a greater transparency in Open matters.

This perhaps  suggests  that the previous relationship of partners, taking into account that the Honourable Company were the first to set down the thirteen golf rules before passing on the ‘Rules’ to the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews and paid for a third of the cost of the Claret Jug (Royal and Ancient and Prestwick paying a third each)  may have strayed more towards a less equal one.

Although Muirfield is a ‘second’ club to many of the Honourable Company  who live elsewhere, (which is similar to many of the finest clubs across GB&I)  the members feel a responsibility that failure to admit women will have adverse implications for the game of golf generally, for the local community in East Lothian and Scotland. They hope that voting in favour of admitting women will re-admit them to the Open Championship venue rota by The R&A, the executive body of the Royal and Ancient GC. There can be no doubt that HCEG is one of the world’s great golf clubs and Muirfield’s has the reputation as one of the world’s finest golf courses.

While all this is going on, whether there is any evidence of greater participation in golf since Harman’s 2010 equality act, (Chris Gotla, Sec/GM of North Hants GC, member of The R&A rules Com and lifetime category one golfer reports in the GCS Newsletter that the Sunday Times suggests the opposite since the Royal and Ancient went dual-sex)  is a mute point and somewhat irrelevant in the face of the politically correct media carrying all before them at Royal St George’s, Royal Troon and now likely HCEG.

The original report was published on May 26th 2016, as below:

The issue of male-only membership is a difficult one for the golf authorities, because respecting the traditional values of golf is important to them but clearly male-only owned Open Championship venues have now fallen below the bar of media-led public acceptability.

The ‘politically correct’ brigade won at Lords, The Royal and Ancient itself and at Royal St George’s, though perhaps the word ‘modernisers’ might be preferred.

rory mcilroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy summed it up with: “we are trying to move with the times and to make golf faster, golf cooler, get more people involved”.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers based at Muirfield has become the latest battlefield where the two approaches clash and do not understand each other.

The ‘dual’ hosting at Royal Troon is a second complication, which I shall come to in a moment.

In the HCEG ‘No lobby’ letter, the authors said a number of things about the type of golf and club that was wanted to be preserved and interestingly : “It will be a very special lady golfer to be able to do all the things that are expected of them.” The Daily Telegraph blandly quoted this without any further explanation as to its meaning!

Perhaps the modernisers, who seem to be in the club’s leading officer roles, should make explicit the traditions that the Club want to maintain and as part of the membership scrutiny process, candidates can declare their choice of allegiance. (Mind you, the hosting of The Open, in a pedantic way, drives a coach and horses through one Club wish; that of wishing to maintain only two-ball play).

On the other hand there is some truth in the saying that the ‘best’ clubs do not need many rules as their memberships are all aware of how to behave anyway.

Might it be that it is considered ‘infra-dig’ by the upper class members of HCEG to have to explain why some members prefer to keep it an all-male club? (Just as an aside, I am told, there are some twenty-two women-only golf clubs in Scotland but of course they do not host Open Championships nor have to deal with a baying media crowd).

Peter Alliss

Peter Alliss

Now that the BBC no longer supports golf coverage it may be easier for Peter Alliss, as he no longer makes money from a television career and at his ‘national treasure’ age of 85, to make politically incorrect remarks that the wives of HCEG members don’t want to become members as they enjoy the facilities of the club without having to pay. But is it inappropriate to wonder how many of the NO voters have golfing wives and that HCEG members are just like the rest of us looking to save money?!

There is the possibility that the 36% of members who voted NO, and so won the day, might have been motivated by matters other than wanting the prestige and ‘new money’ of hosting The Open and actually saw the tournament as getting in the way of their regular golf, while also seeing no need to worry about any potential loss of prestige or a reduction in green fee income.

When speaking to the previous secretary he certainly gave the impression that the club was not interested in promoting itself but rather preferred to remain quietly reliant on an understated presence. Of course when you are already at the top of the tree in the golf market, such a policy is the strongest marketing tactic that you can deploy.

There is the question over the effect of Harman’s 2010 Equality Act.  Firstly, HCEG had no statement in it’s rules etc to say that it was a men only club until the 2010 Equality Act came into force. From 1744 until then there was no mention of a gender stipulation.

Secondly in the wider context, it was said to be a help in attracting more women to play sports like golf, while actually resulting in making women have to pay the same (and therefore higher) subscriptions as men. It is not easy to interpret the statistics on England Golf’s website as to whether more women are playing now or not, as the two yearly reporting since 2006 keeps changing and is difficult to compare. It seems that women have continued to be about 15% of total players and it is certainly hoped that they are a prime target demography for an increase in golfing numbers. (Perhaps this issue is a bit like the Junior Doctors. The modernisers felt the contract needed changing whatever the disruption in the short-term, before the NHS could move forward?)

HCEG has had the decency in the past to profess to take seriously its wider responsibilities to ‘golf’ than just to its 750 members. The R&A’s estimate of a £20m boost to the local economy when The Open Championship was last played in Gullane (plus an equivalent £50m for Edinburgh) will come as an embarrassment if, as one of the four GB&I courses in the American Golf Digest’s world top ten courses (the others are Royal County Down 1st, Royal Dornoch 2nd, St Andrews Old 9th) it has lost for ever the hosting of The Open Championship.

There is talk of another vote being held, so as to obtain the necessary mere fourteen votes more than last time in favour of inviting women members.

There is a danger in the above as it might be seen as copying the EU in requiring a new vote until the ‘correct’ one is obtained. This trick worked with the Irish, Dutch and French but who can predict the likely outcome among HCEG members? Being brow-beaten might even stiffen the ‘No’ vote.

The Old course at Troon is now the only Open Championship venue owned by an all-male membership. The two Troon privately owned courses, the Old and the Portland and their facilities, are shared between the Royal Troon Golf Club and the Ladies’ Golf Club Troon and the two clubs will jointly host the 2016 Open Championship.

Does this situation trip up the modernisers’ femanist campaign?

Clearly under media pressure, and as part of an on-going membership review, the Royal Troon Club captain has recently stated “We care very much for the reputation of Royal Troon Golf Club and it is important that the club, much like the wider game, reflects the modern society in which we exist. We have today written to all of our 800 members to understand their views and feelings on the issue of the admission of women to the Club. We expect to have a clearer sight of those opinions in the weeks ahead and will make further statements in due course.”

Reading between those lines my bet is on Royal Troon becoming a mixed sex club.

Reader Comments

On March 5th, 2018 Hugo Pestley said:

Fine Golf should be congratulated on having the courage and conviction to clearly define its position on an array of important golfing matters ranging from grass types to speed of play. So in light of this article, I wonder if Fine Golf would offer a similar degree of clarity and inform us whether it believes men-only golf clubs should have been permitted to continue to host the Open Championship, or not?
Yours Hugo Pestley

Dear Hugo,
Thank you for your congratulations though I note that you are two years late with your question as I am not aware that there are any Open Championship venues that are single sex memberships.
Best wishes Lorne

On May 12th, 2018 Hugo Pestley said:

Dear Lorne
Next year’s Amateur Championship (a tournament which, I note, FineGolf has argued should receive national exposure on the BBC) is to be hosted at the male-only Portmarnock GC – so is FineGolf able to clarify whether it believes any of the R&A’s leading tournaments should be held at men-only clubs?
Best Hugo

Dear Hugo,
The following two statements from The R&A are in the public domain:
“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.”

“The invitation to Portmarnock to host the Amateur Championship predated the Championship Committee’s decision not to take The Open to golf courses at single-gender clubs and it was agreed by the championship committee at the time that all existing agreements concerning The R&A’s amateur events would be honoured.”

That policy seems pretty sensible to FineGolf and we welcome British events being held in Southern Ireland in the same way that the Irish Open was held at Portstewart in Northern Ireland recently.

Portmarnock is a fine course (see the review) and hosted the British Ladies Championship in 1931 and in 1949, had the unique distinction of hosting the Amateur Championship, the only time it had been played outside the United Kingdom, being won on that occasion by an Irish golfer who had been on active service for H.M. King George VI.
Kind regards

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