This men-only golf club was just banned from hosting the British Open

The World
Phil Mickelson at the British Open golf championship at Muirfield in 2013, the last time the tournament was held on the course.

Phil Mickelson at the British Open golf championship at Muirfield in 2013 - the last time the tournament was held on the course.

Toby Melville/Reuters

There's big controversy in the golf world.

Muirfield golf club in Scotland, which some say is the oldest in the world, has voted to continue its ban on female members. It has hosted the British Open 16 times — but it has just been told that it will never host another, if its membership policy doesn’t change.

The R&A, golf’s governing body outside the US, on Thursday removed the course from the Open roster.

Vivien Saunders, a former Women’s British Open champion, said that Muirfield’s decision not to allow women was “ridiculous.”

“They are stupid not to admit women members,” she said. “If they lose the Open championship, they will lose recognition. I think it’s going to be a big downturn for them.”

“It could have an effect on their finances as well. Let’s hope it does. If people turn their backs on the club and say this is silly, it might hit them where it hurts — in the pocket.”

Saunders, who owns two golf clubs in the UK, said the sport has changed a lot since her victory at the Open in 1977, but the Muirfield vote shows that there is much more to do.  

“It’s still a long way behind,” said Saunders. “It has to change; it makes Britain look ridiculous as a country.”

Tiger Woods walks off the 12th tee during the first round of the British Open golf Championship at Muirfield in Scotland July 18, 2013.

Tiger Woods walks off the 12th tee during the first round of the British Open golf Championship at Muirfield in Scotland July 18, 2013. 

Credit:

Brian Snyder

Beth Ann Nichols, senior writer at Golfweek, said she too was “shocked” by Muirfield’s decision.

“It was a sad day for the game yesterday,” says Nichols. “Golf is trying to move forward. It is trying to change. It’s trying to become younger and hipper.”

“The growth of golf is stagnant, and looking to women and girls to grow the game is a huge opportunity.”

A letter by Muirfield members obtained by the Scotsman complained that if women were allowed to join, "Our foursomes and speedy play would be endangered."

“We are not an ordinary club. Our special nature; ‘a gentleman’s club where golf is played’ is quite unique with its fraternity built inter alia on foursomes play with a round taking only the same time as lunch and leaving enough time for a further round after lunch," the letter reportedly said. 

Golfweek writer Nichols said the R&A’s decision to take the course off the Open roster was “very important” in sending a message.

“I don’t have anything against clubs,” said Nichols. “If females want to have a gym which is female-only that’s fine. If men want to have a club that’s men-only that’s fine too.”

“But don’t expect to host one of the biggest championships in golf if you’re going to maintain that policy.”

“If Muirfield want to be quiet in their own corner of the world and keep their renowned golf course to themselves, then that is their decision, but there is no way they should be able to host the Open.”