Muirfield Golf Club will be excluded from the British Open rotation until it lifts a centuries-old ban on female members.
There are currently about 12 courses in the world that exclude women. Earlier this week, the members of legendary Muirfield Golf Club chose to remain among them by upholding a centuries-old policy of barring women from membership status. Consequently, the R&A (Royal & Ancient), golf’s other governing body besides the USGA has dropped Muirfield from its British Open rotation.
The roughly 600 members of the club needed a two-thirds majority to pass an amendment in favor of adding female members but fell just short of their goal at 64 percent. While the voting results show that a majority of Muirfield’s members are in favor of a change to its antiquated policy, their failure to pass such progressive legislation may mean millions left on the table for the surrounding community in Scotland.
Why did the members of Muirfield Golf Club reject female members in the first place? An open letter was sent to the Scottish news outlet, The Scotsman. In this letter, roughly thirty members cite a fear of slow play and female members feeling uncomfortable around what would be a largely male-dominated course. The letter also sites a tradition of over 100 years of male-only golf at the grounds of Muirfield.
As a private course, the members of Muirfield would indeed be allowed to control their own destiny if they remained, well, private. Instead, Muirfield Golf Club has hosted the British Open 16 times since its members moved to its present location in 1891. The British Open rotation saw Muirfield last host the tournament in 2013 when Phil Mickelson won with a memorable finish (see 4:44).
When private clubs choose to open their doors for public events, they collect millions in tournament, television, and sponsorship revenue. As a result, these once isolated and ancient clubs come under great scrutiny.
Augusta National did not admit its first African-American member until 1990 when the USGA, PGA America, and the PGA Tour ruled that no club could host a PGA tournament if it did not admit minority members. In 2002, public pressure forced then-Chairman Hootie Johnson to accept a female member by 2003.
The bottom line is that businesses want to know who and what they are investing their money in.
Economic Impact on Muirfield Golf Club
It is hard to say what the impact will be on Muirfield. According to the English publication the Financial Times, the British Open does not generate the enormous amount of revenue for the course that one might assume.
In fact, a majority of the £60.7 million earned from the 2013 Open Championship goes to R&A Championships, the company that organizes and operates the golf’s oldest major. Additionally, Muirfield boasts a membership waiting list of up to seven years, so it’s safe to say that they are financially secure regardless of being in or out of the British Open rotation.
Economic Impact on Scotland
The real victims of the R&A’s ruling will most assuredly be the Scottish people, especially those who live in the East Lothian council (county) where Muirfield is located. By The Scotsman’s estimate, the loss of the Open will mean the surrounding economy will miss out on a £45 million boost every 10-to-12 years.
In an article published by golfbusinessnews.com in 2013, the R&A found that ”[that] year’s Championship at Muirfield delivered a near £70 million benefit to East Lothian and Edinburgh. The comparable figure for Scotland as a whole [rose] to £88 million.”
By the numbers, more than 203,000 spectators who stayed in the surrounding area for the tournament injected £17.6 million into East Lothian and £6.8 million in Edinburgh. Marketing and promotional exposure added an additional £45 million.
While Edinburgh has the second-highest average salary among Scottish cities (The Scotsman), the negative economic impact of losing the British Open could have large implications.
Ultimately, the 200 or so members of Muirfield Golf Club should feel ashamed of their decision. While barring women from becoming members may have felt like an attractive or even rational decision in 1744 when the first links were created at St. Andrews, such a policy only serves to hurt the club’s reputation as well as the surrounding community. The pressure will surely mount for the members of Muirfield to reach a two-thirds majority at some point soon.
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