Somewhere along the way, those 219 members at Muirfield Golf Club confused tradition with dogma.
Tradition is 16 Open Championships played on the iconic East Lothian links. Tradition is a club that dates back to 1744, when the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was founded. Tradition is a list of Open champions that reads like a roll call of the game’s greatest players – from Harold Hilton (1892) to Phil Mickelson (2013).
Dogma is the narrow-minded, insular and extremely archaic decision by those 219 members who voted on Thursday to cling to the club’s all-male membership policy.
“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,” said Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
Fairweather went on to explain that women are still welcome on the property, inexplicably pointing out that there are women playing the golf course today, as if that somehow mitigates a decision that defies logic.
But the distinction between tradition and dogma was perfectly clear to the R&A, which runs The Open and wasted no time pulling Muirfield from the championship’s rotation.
“Given the schedule for staging the Open, it would be some years before Muirfield would have been considered to host the championship again,” 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.”
Few organizations in golf cling to tradition as much as the R&A. The claret jug has been awarded to the year’s “champion golfer” since 1873 and the group has called St. Andrews home since 1754, 22 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Yet the R&A was quick to pull the plug on Muirfield when the pro-female member’s push fell short of the two-thirds majority that is required for a rule change.
As surprising as the Muirfield vote may be, the R&A’s swift reaction is a sign of progress by any measure. Both the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and Royal St. George’s voted to allow female members within the last year two years and Royal Troon, the site of this year’s championship, seems poised to make the same change.
“Thank you [R&A] for the quick and decisive decision, and for sending a clear message for/about our sport!” LPGA commissioner Michael Whan tweeted.
Some will confuse this episode with the powers that be – in this case, the R&A – trying to impose its will on private clubs. That’s not the case.
Muirfield can follow whatever path the club chooses however misguided some may think it is. But when the golf world descends on the layout every few years to host one of the game’s biggest events the ability to hide behind the private gates is cast aside.
The right of the 219 Muirfield members to deny female membership is undeniable, just as confusing dogma for tradition is unimaginable.