On Thursday in Scotland, the world was reminded that of all the athletes in all the sports in the world, golfers can be among the most stubborn and most ignorant.
Muirfield, an amazing 18-hole championship golf course — “the Augusta National of Scotland,” if you will — failed to reach a two-thirds majority vote amongst its members to allow women to join the club. The Royal & Ancient, organizer of the British Open, acted swiftly and positively, dismissing Muirfield from the Open rota, basically saying you won’t be seeing that golf course anytime soon with this type of mindset.
And while it’s easy to roll your eyes and dismiss this as a bunch of cranky old golfers fearing change, it’s more than that. This type of thinking drags the game of golf back through the muddy troughs we are trying so desperately to separate ourselves from.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the ironic title of Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the owners of Muirfield, can do whatever they want at their private club. That’s the benefit of being private. If you’ve never read James Corrigan’s great piece on Muirfield prior to the 2013 Open Championship, it’s worth diving in just to see exactly what we’re dealing with here at a place like Muirfield.
Tom Watson, with wife Linda, after winning the 1980 Open at Muirfield.
But to me, when you open yourself up to one of the four biggest golf events on the planet, you are more than just a good ol’ boys’ club, you’re a place that is expected to keep up with the times. We’ve seen places like Augusta National and the R&A change their views on female members, and yet we sit here in 2016 wondering why some people are so scared of change.
It wasn’t too long ago that Tiger Woods had to battle with racism while trying to dominate the sport. We still see and know of golf courses in this country that don’t allow females to join, which isn’t just appalling, it’s laughable.
A female is one of the two frontrunners to be the next President of the United States. The USGA elected its second female president earlier this year in Diana Murphy, and while a new generation of open-minded people continue to try to advance our society, it’s the stodgy men with actual sway that pull us back two steps as we are trying so hard to move forward.
And if all of this doesn’t annoy you, just wait for the statement from a group of members leading the charge against allowing women in their hoity-toity club.
A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.
“It is accepted that we may have to change, but we should not do so now on the basis suggested. A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.”
Is there a more tunnel-visioned statement than that? Is there a more embarrassing way of looking at life than to say that “traditional resistance” is something to be proud of?
Get out of here with that.
Golf doesn’t need this. It doesn’t need players like Rory McIlroy and Lydia Ko having to answer a single question about this embarrassing lack of perspective, even though they inevitably will have to do just that.
Nick Faldo, with his iconic yellow sweater, after taking the title in 1987 at Muirfield.
It’s embarrassing that a place that has seen the likes of Walter Hagen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson raise the Claret Jug can not only dismiss progression, but dump on the history that is involved in what they do.
Is anyone in the game going to be happy about being associated with like-minded people like these members after this decision? Player has already issued a statement calling the decision “simply unacceptable.”
When I caddied at St. Andrews after college, one of the coolest parts of the job was walking around the Old Course on a Sunday. Being from the States, I was used to the most prestigious clubs in our country building high walls and dense bushes around their property, keeping out the regular folks from even seeing their perfect fairways and carpet-like greens.
But at St. Andrews, anyone was allowed on at any time, and on Sundays, the course was closed and people would picnic on the most famous golf course on the planet, walk their dogs on the fairways, and take pictures on the 18th green. It’s the definition of inclusion, a place that doesn’t turn away anyone as long as you can forge a handicap card.
We will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members. If the policy at the club should change, we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.
I caddied for Danes and grandkids, women and Americans. I looped for a group that spoke zero English and a group that had such thick Southern accents I thought I had tripped and fallen into Sage Valley. I had good players and terrible players, people that loved the game and people that had yet to catch the bug. But the key with my experiences at St. Andrews was in a few short months I learned that golf is truly global, more global than an East Texas kid would have ever thought was possible, and at a place like St. Andrews, having a set of clubs and a credit card are the only necessities.
And in 2016, a few feet from the first tee at St. Andrews, the R&A was forced to have another discussion about an issue that should have retired with persimmon heads and balata golf balls.
And while it might have taken the R&A 260 years before they themselves admitted a female member in 2014, at least they’ve done it. Did they deserve praise for it taking so long for them to get with the times when they themselves run golf around most of the world? No, it should have happened sooner, but at least they have absolved the issue and have taken up such a tough stance on what Muirfield’s members decided on.
Golf is trying so hard to become cool again. So many companies are trying to figure out the perfect way to bring in a whole different crop of folks that might get addicted to the game. And somewhere, a young girl might have been getting ready for school this Thursday, hearing about a famous golf course that thinks she’s not good enough for them.
Phil Mickelson — for now, at least, the final Open champion at Muirfield.
That’s not growing the game. That’s tarnishing dreams.
Shame on Muirfield for this. Shame on the men that think they are more important than where the world is going. Shame on them for sitting back in their comfortable chairs, sipping their gin and yukking up about how they won’t have to give up their club to the R&A anytime soon.
On the home page of the Muirfield website, the last line reads, “we look forward to welcoming you to Muirfield.” That is, if you fit their prerequisites.