The club failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed via postal balloting to allow female membership, it was announced on Thursday. According to Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which controls Muirfield, of the 616 votes tallied, 397 (64 percent) voted to allow females while 219 (36 percent) voted no.
“A majority of members voted for women as members of the club but the two-thirds majority that we require for a change in the rules was not met. The club will retain its men-only membership policy,” said Fairweather. “The honorable company is a members club and the members decide the rules of the club, including its membership policy. Women will continue to be welcome at Muirfield on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and as visitors as they have for many years, and we have some ladies playing here today.”
In response to the decision, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers sent out a news release saying Muirfield would not be considered to host the Open Championship, under its current policy.
“The R&A has considered today’s decision with respect to The Open Championship. The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” the statement read.
“Given the schedule for staging The Open, it would be some years before Muirfield would have been considered to host the Championship again. If the policy at the club should change we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.”
Muirfield, in Gullane, Scotland, has hosted 16 Open Championships, dating back to 1892. Phil Mickelson won the most recent edition, in 2013.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon responded to the news via social media: “Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible.”
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and Royal St. George’s have voted in the last two years to allow female members. Royal Troon Golf Club, which will host The Open this July, is expected to announce at some point this year if it will do the same.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was founded in 1744 and is the oldest recorded golf club in the world. It set down the first known rules of golf.
“The review process has been thorough, it has been conducted with all due diligence and professionalism,” Fairweather said. “The ballot process has been fair and independently scrutinized. Our club committee recommended that members should vote for the admission of women as members of the club.”
The Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper, reported on Wednesday that a group of 33 Muirfield members led a “No” campgain and circulated a letter to membership.
“The introduction of lady members is bound to create difficulties. Regardless of the conventions when they first join they are likely over time to question our foursomes play, our match system, the uncompromising challenge our fine links present, our lunch arrangements. It will take a very special lady golfer to be able to do all the things that are expected of them in the template which is suggested and the ladies’ membership as a whole may not meet this standard,” the letter stated, according to The Scotsman.
“It seems very strange to take a step to fundamentally change a strong institution with real risks to that strength in order to retain a ‘one off’ event that happens rarely. This is made even more strange when it is possible that the change may not work.”