Muirfield sexism row damages golf’s reputation

The men of Muirfield golf club are safe from the disruption that those dreadful women would inevitably cause if their presence in the clubhouse was permitted. Those two-hundred-odd men who voted earlier this week against allowing women to join their club must be sitting in their blazers alongside their fellow prehistoric members thanking their lucky stars that women will not, for the time being at least, be sullying their golf club. After all, they would bring havoc to the existing way of things, as they surely would have done had they been allowed to join the The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which makes up the membership of Muirfield golf club.

These men, of course, were right to be worried that allowing women to join would slow down the pace of play of their foursomes – because we all know that women can’t walk as fast as these decrepit, out-of-touch men. Further difficulties that may have been created by women becoming members, as outlined in a letter written by a 33-strong group of men who campaigned against allowing women in, were the likelihood that women would question their match system, as well as their lunch arrangements. Are these men are engaging in some kind of homoerotic behaviour over a cheese and ham sandwich that would be unable to continue were women present? Admittedly, I’m not sure I could actually cope with that.

These risks stated by the existing male members about admitting women are beyond parody. That they are all very real is embarrassing, sexist and most of all extremely sad. Muirfield, one of the greatest golf courses in the world, will now not be awarded The Open Championship unless they reverse their decision. The R&A must be applauded for its swift response to the result of Muirfield’s vote. While removing the course from the Open rota is unquestionably the correct decision, it does not entirely solve the problem.

It should be said that Muirfield is a private members’ club and can therefore apply whichever rules they want with regards to their membership criteria. Disallowing women is entirely within the law. But this issue spread far wider than a small East Lothian golf club, and impact on the whole sport. There is already a perception that golf is run by old, white, sexist men. In many, many cases, this is not true. The majority of golf clubs will be disgusted by the decision taken by Muirfield’s members, yet they have been damaged by it.

The decision not to allow women members does not just confirm the suspicion that sexism runs deeply through golf, it strengthens it considerably. Anyone who has ever felt that golf was not welcoming to women has just had their opinion confirmed. That the golf commentator, Peter Allis, commented that if women wanted to join, they “better get married to somebody who’s a member”, did not help matters either.

Golf, as a sport, is trying to widen its appeal. Golf clubs across Britain are struggling for members and are trying to market the game to a wider audience in an attempt to bring in new players. Much of the recruitment drive is targeted at kids, with clubs mindful of the fact that they must encourage a new generation of members if they are to survive into the future. In light of Muirfield’s decision, why would any young girl be encouraged to pick up a golf club for the first time? “Come along to our golf club – you’ll be met with a barrage of sexism”, is the message. There will be countless parents who will influence which sport their young daughters should try out – why would they choose golf ahead of tennis or athletics or swimming in light of the headlines that Muirfield’s members have generated? Muirfield has, in one fell swoop, undermined every ounce of effort that has gone into recruiting women and girls to the sport.

Heather MacRae, a Scottish professional golfer, posted a remarkable tweet after hearing news of the result of Muirfield’s vote. “The first time I played Muirfield I had to sit outside after the game as I wasn’t allowed in. I sat and watched a member go in with his dog”, she said. So dogs are welcome in the clubhouse, but God forbid allowing women in.

The fallout from the result of Muirfield’s vote has been severe. The club has been universally denounced. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, called the decision “indefensible”, Ivan Khodabakhsh, chief executive of the Ladies’ European Tour, said he was “speechless”, and world number three, Rory McIlroy, urged Muirfield to “see sense”.

It is likely that, sooner or later, Muirfield will allow women members. Let’s not pretend that fighting for the right to allow women to join a golf club is the greatest battle that feminism has faced. If and, more likely, when women members are allowed to join Muirfield, it will not so much break the glass ceiling as make a tiny, almost imperceptible chip in it. Much more work needs to be done in the fight towards equality and allowing women to join a jumped-up, sexist golf club is only a miniscule portion of that fight. Yet it is, nevertheless, important. If golf is to grow as a sport then decisions such as Muirfield’s ludicrously sexist one must be confined to the past. But whatever happens in the future, the damage to golf’s reputation is already done.


Susan Egelstaff is an Olympic badminton player who competed at London 2012, as well as representing Scotland at three Commonwealth Games, winning two bronze medals. She retired in the aftermath of the London Games after a 12-year international career. Having written the occasional article for newspapers while still competing, she decided to try and make sports journalism a job. Susan is now a columnist and sports writer with The Herald, The Sunday Herald and The National and is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Scotland. Susan is also heavily involved with the Winning Scotland Foundation, a charity which helps children achieve their goals. Susan’s latest articles.

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