Muirfield says “no” to female members, taken off British Open list

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Lee Westwood of England putts on the 18th during the third round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield (Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Muirfield was removed from the list of courses that can host the British Open golf tournament, after the Scottish club voted against admitting female members in a move Thursday that provoked sharp criticism from players and lawmakers.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns Muirfield, announced its decision to retain the club’s male-only policy following a ballot of its 750 members. A two-thirds majority was required for a change to take place, but 36 percent of members voted against allowing women.

The Royal and Ancient, which runs the British Open, said Muirfield has been taken off the list of courses that can host golf’s oldest major championship.

“Going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement. “If the policy at the club should change, we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.”

Muirfield is one of 10 courses on the British Open rotation and has staged the event 16 times, most recently in 2013. Royal Troon, which hosts this year’s tournament from July 14-17, is the only other club on the rotation to still exclude women.

British sports minister David Evennett said the decision by Muirfield’s members was “extremely disappointing” and “sends out completely the wrong message.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, voiced her disappointment on Twitter.

Speaking after finishing his first round at the Irish Open, two-time British Open champion Padriag Harrington backed the R&A’s decision to remove Muirfield from the list of hosts.

“We love playing the golf course but there’s more to modern golf than just the course,” Harrington said. “Gone are the days where you can discriminate in a club. The R&A have a bigger responsibility to society, and they’ve done the right thing.”

Henry Fairweather, captain of Muirfield, said the club had to follow the rules set by its members.

“Women will continue to be welcome at Muirfield on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors, as they have been for many years,” Fairweather said.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, the spiritual “Home of Golf,” opened its membership to women in 2014 for the first time in 260 years. Royal St. George’s, another British Open host, ended its male-only membership last year.

Augusta National, home of the Masters, decided in 2012 to invite women to join.

On the last occasion Muirfield hosted the British Open, when Phil Mickelson lifted the claret jug, the R&A was heavily criticized for allowing Muirfield to stage the event given its opposition to having female members.

A consultation exercise with members was opened as a result.

Scottish newspaper The Scotsman reported Wednesday that a group of members at Muirfield – leading a “No” campaign against women joining the club – had canvassed fellow members, saying “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,” the members wrote in the letter, according to The Scotsman.

Troon has separate men’s and women’s clubs and is consulting members over whether to alter that arrangement.