No Women Members Allowed At Course Hosting 2013 British Open


Rory McIlroy on the 18th hole at Muirfield. (Credit: Getty)

Rory McIlroy on the 18th hole at Muirfield. (Credit: Getty)

The Scottish golf course hosting this week’s Open Championship does not allow women to join its ranks as members. Muirfield, where the British Open began this morning, has been home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, golf’s oldest recognized membership organization, since 1891. Its membership has included only men since.

Muirfield’s membership policy has drawn comparisons to Augusta National Golf Club, the Georgia course that hosts The Masters each April. After years of protests, Augusta relented and admitted its first female members in 2012. Muirfield’s policy got the attention of Caroline Wozniacki, a top women’s tennis player and the girlfriend of top golfer Rory McIlroy. “Really?” Wozniacki exclaimed when told about the membership policy. “Even at a course that is hosting the British Open?”

Male players have expressed dismay at the policy as well. Ernie Els, a two-time British Open champ who won the last time it was played at Muirfield in 2002, said last week, “We’ve got presidents and prime ministers who are women. Should the Open be there?” Australian Geoff Ogilvy called the policy “archaic.” But even as they protest the policy, both players are in the field this week, and Ogilvy offered a resigned excuse for why male players aren’t taking more of a stand against the policy. “I don’t agree with their stance but you can’t force people to do something,” Ogilvy said. “So we can disapprove, like we all disapproved of Augusta, probably, off of principle, but they had to come to it on their own time.”

When would that time be that is better than right now? Muirfield will eventually allow women to join its ranks, but it now holds the dubious distinction of excluding women when not even Augusta National will and even after the notoriously-defensive All England Club began paying women equal prize money at Wimbledon in 2007. Both of those efforts took concerted activism from players, fans, and advocates, not the wait-until-they-come-around approach Ogilvy is advocating. And without the support of male players, both Augusta and Wimbledon took longer to change than they should have.

Scottish golf courses, as BusinessInsider’s Jay Yarow wrote this week, are generally more inclusive than their American counterparts. Muirfield is a major exception, though unlike Augusta and other top American courses, it does allow non-members to play at select times. Allowing women members at Muirfield won’t solve the world’s gender-inequity problems, not when they will come cut from the same wealthy, exclusive cloth as Muirfield’s men. But the policy stands as an example of the barriers that exist for women from the upper levels of society on down.

“It’s something that shouldn’t happen these days,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “It’s something that we shouldn’t even be talking about. So that’s why I guess a lot of people don’t want to talk about it.” Making it something we don’t have to talk about, though, requires standing up and doing more than talking about it now.