March 16, 2017

Muirfield Golf Club, after more than 200 years, will admit women as members

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After than a century of disallowing female members, the Muirfield Golf Club this week reversed that policy.

It took longer than some members might have liked, but after a 273-year-old holdover, the Muirfield Golf Club voted Tuesday, with the necessary two-thirds in support, to begin admitting women as members to the club.

Tuesday’s victory was perhaps more about pragmatism than principles. Just over 80 percent of the men of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh, which runs Muirfield, determined that it is better to have to share membership privileges with the occasional woman than to be excluded from hosting a British Open.

Of the 621 members that voted, 498 cast their ballots in support of admitting women. Last May, 616 members cast ballots, with fewer than 400 in support of the change.

For more than a century, Muirfield had been able to welcome the world to its storied course while keeping women out, except as guests and visitors. Sixteen times, most recently in 2013, Muirfield managed to keep its discriminatory membership policy and host one of golf’s most prestigious championships, too — Royal and Ancient, the organizer of the British Open, proposed boycotting the course if the changes were not made to admit women as members.

Formed in 1744, Muirfield was one of the last clubs to host a major golf event to dig their heels in on membership. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews opened its membership to women in 2014. Royal St. George’s, another British Open site, followed suit a year later. Last year, Royal Troon ended its male-only membership policy — a few weeks before hosting the British Open.

After last year’s Muirfield voting results were announced, Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, was in a state of shock.

On Tuesday, the reigning Masters champion Danny Willett, an Englishman, expressed delight in the voting reversal.

“I think that’s great,” he said. “I think it shows how times have changed. It shows how golf’s changed.”

After the vote was announced, the R&A affirmed Muirfield would go back into the British Open rotation. The first Open that Muirfield could host is in 2022, and by then, it is hoped, its membership will include a handful of women.

The battle will wage on at its next destination, the Kasumigaseki Country Club, which was chosen as the site of the men’s and women’s golf competition at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The club denies women full membership and prohibits them from playing on Sundays. In an interview with Reuters last month, the International Olympic Committee’s vice president, John Coates, said that if the club did not “achieve gender equality,” the Olympic competition would be moved to another course.

Information from The New York Times contributed to this report. 

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