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Open season at Muirfield? Not quite

other Updated: Jul 16, 2013 23:23 IST
Karen Crouse
Karen Crouse
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The royal baby, due any day now, could grow up to become a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield. Unless it is a girl, in which case all bets are off.

The private club, which will host its 16th British Open this week, is so exclusive that the sons of members and others deemed worthy of inclusion might have to bide their time for decades. For women, the wait is 269 years and counting.

Muirfield has a male-only membership, its exclusionary practices resurrecting the public debate that Augusta National, host of the Masters, put to rest by admitting its first two female members before this year’s tournament.

The club has issued a statement that explained that women are welcome to play as invited guests “with full use of the facilities” while noting that it has hosted “many women’s events including the Curtis Cup”.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see that traditions that seem quaint are, in fact, corrosive. At Wimbledon, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, a former world No 1 who is dating golfer Rory McIlroy, expressed amazement at Muirfield’s all-male membership. “Really?” said Wozniacki, whose sport awards equal prize money to men and women in the majors. “Even at a course that is hosting the British Open?”

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, which oversees the British Open, has said repeatedly it would not be in the best interests of the event to drop a classic, storied club like Muirfield from its rotation. “We wouldn’t think of doing it,” he said in April, “I think this idea that it sends out a dreadful message to the world is considerably overblown.”

To be fair, ESPN analyst Paul Azinger said, Muirfield can be an equal-opportunity excluder. “It’s probably more difficult to get a round of golf at Muirfield than any place in the world,” he said.

ESPN analyst Andy North agreed, and told this story to illustrate Azinger’s point. The evening after Tom Watson’s British Open victory at Muirfield in 1980, North said, he, Watson and Ben Crenshaw walked out on the course with gutta-percha balls and wood-shafted clubs for a friendly competition.

“And after two holes, basically, the secretary of the club found out that we were out there, came out and kicked us all off the golf course,” North said.

So for anyone unsure why Muirfield is the way it is, North said, chuckling, “I think that in some way may answer your questions.” NYT