Column: Muirfield Agrees To Admit Women MembersApril 27, 2017

Column: Muirfield Agrees To Admit Women MembersMuirfield Golf Club in Scotland, which has hosted 16 previous British Open Championships, recently voted to admit women for the first time in the club’s 273-year history.

It was the second time in the past 10 months that Muirfield’s members voted on the issue of female members. The prior vote failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority, failing by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent. Last month’s vote was supported by more than 80 percent of the members. Women had been allowed to play the course on certain days as guests of current members, similar to male non-members.

The final tally may have been based more on pragmatism and economics than a belief in equality of the sexes. After last year’s motion was defeated, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which organizes the British Open Championship, announced that it would exclude Muirfield from consideration as a site for the tournament. That decision would have cost Muirfield money, prestige and media coverage.

Despite the outcome of this year’s vote, don’t hold your breath waiting for the first female member to be approved. Although the change takes effect immediately, it could be two years and perhaps longer before a woman becomes a member. There is a long waiting list for membership and potential members must be proposed by current ones, which means those opposed to the admission of women will have another opportunity to voice their disapproval.

Muirfield became the fourth golf club in the past two years to change their membership rules in order to remain in the rotation to host the British Open. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews was the first to open its membership to women in 2014. Royal St. George’s Golf Club followed suit in 2015 and last year, Royal Troon Golf Club agreed to end its male-only policy. After the Muirfield vote the Royal and Ancient Golf Club announced that the Club would again be included in the rotation for the British Open. However, because sites are announced years in advance, the first chance for Muirfield to host the tournament is in 2022.

If co-ed golf clubs is your definition of progress on equal rights, count me as nonplussed. I don’t play golf, never have and hope I never do. To paraphrase a quote erroneously attributed to Mark Twain, I tend to view playing golf as a good walk spoiled. However, my golf-playing friends, male and female, feel otherwise. But they view the game differently. My male friends tend to take the game seriously, regardless of their ability, unlike my female friends most of whom view golf as a social activity or merely as physical exercise. And the overwhelming majority of both sexes prefer to play golf in the company of their gender, with the exception of spouses. If either sex prefers to play with their own gender, who am I to pass judgment on that decision?

It’s difficult to get a firm count of the male-only golf clubs in the U.S. but the number is less than two dozen. However, single gender golf clubs aren’t limited to the male sex. The British Isles are populated with numerous golf clubs that exclude male members. There are also women-only golf clubs in the U.S. and Canada. If women prefer to play golf exclusively with members of their own gender, is that discrimination? How about book clubs, motorcycle clubs, gyms or any other single-sex (male or female) private association of members – is that discrimination?

The oft heard argument that women should not be excluded from private golf clubs because it denies them access to power is a fable debunked long ago. Research confirms that men primarily talk about golf on the golf course, not business.

There is real discrimination between the sexes - in Title IX enforcement, job and pay equality, and a whole host of other areas - that begs attention. The goal of eliminating single-sex golf clubs is much ado about nothing.