Defending Open Champion Ernie Els has called Muirfield “weird” for the its all-male policy ahead of next week’s Open Championship at the Scottish Club.
Muirfield, home to the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, is one of a few clubs in the United Kingdom that still refuses to admit women members. Other Open venues Royal Troon and Royal St. George’s also do not allow women to join. Neither does the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the members’ club attached to the R&A.
“It’s going to be an issue,” Els said. “It is an issue. I’m not a member there. I’m a member at clubs around the world. I would like to believe that most of the clubs we belong to are open. It’s weird isn’t it?
“It’s not happening everywhere. We’ve got presidents, prime ministers, heads of companies who are women. It’s weird.”
The R&A has always maintained it takes its blue-ribbon event to the best courses, and Muirfield certainly fits that category. (It ranks fifth on Golfweek’s Best Classic Courses list of Great Britain & Ireland.) However, the issue is sure to be debated next week in light of Augusta National’s decision last year to admit female members in Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
Speaking in April, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson defended the decision to take the Open Championship to all-male clubs.
“It is a singlesex membership club, but women do have access to the golf course either as guests of members or simply as visitors. You do see a good number of ladies playing at Muirfield.
“Muirfield has been very helpful to women's golf over time. I think the Curtis Cup has been there twice in its history.
“There's nothing wrong under the UK legislation with a single-sex club, as long as they behave under the Equality Act as far as guest access is concerned, which certainly Muirfield does.
“To think that the R&A might say to a club like Muirfield, ‘You're not going to have The Open any more unless you change your policy,’ is frankly a bullying position that we would never take. Muirfield has a huge history in The Open Championship. This will be the 16th time it's been played there. And who are we to say what they should do, because they're behaving perfectly legally?
“We borrow Muirfield's golf course for two or three weeks every ten years. That's what we do. They allow us to stage The Open Championship at their golf clubs. Personally I think this idea that it sends out a dreadful message to the world is considerably overblown.”
Maybe so, but Els’ calling the situation “weird” is not going to help the R&A or Muirfield’s case.
“All I can say it’s weird that it’s not happening (Muirfield having women members) in today’s day and age,” Els concluded. “It is what it is. We’re sportsmen. If you put a hole down the M25 (the motorway around London) we’ll probably go play. Other people judge. We play sport. But it is weird.”