R&A will be coursed over ‘elephant in the room’
All-male club a contentious choice to host British Open
As Jack Nicklaus once put it, “what you see is what you get.” And the two circuits of nine holes rotate in opposite directions, the back nine looping inside the front nine, so that players are never faced with the same wind direction on two consecutive holes. It has been the scene of triumph for, among others, Nicklaus, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Gary Player, Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon.
Career Grand Slam
It was at Muirfield in 1966 that Nicklaus completed his first career Grand Slam. “Almost from the moment I started playing golf I had heard a message, first from history conscious Scioto members, then from my Dad and Jack Grout, then from Bob Jones and many other friends in the upper echelons of the game.
“It was that if you wanted to be remembered as a complete champion, you must win all the great championships. That meant there would be a question mark against your name unless you crossed the water and added the British Open to your name,” Nicklaus wrote his autobiography, My Story.
The roll-of-honour of champions on the links speaks for itself. Some 170,000 spectators will attend the championship – where it is possible to pay at the gate and with Under-16s admitted free when with an adult – and, yet, despite such accessibility for such a major sporting event, such an all-inclusive approach isn’t part of the host club’s ethos.
In making his stay-away stance, Salmond informed the BBC: “I just think it’s indefensible in the 21st century not to have a club that’s open to all . . . . if Muirfield had the Honourable Company of Women Golfers as well and had a women’s company who played the course, some clubs do that and that’s pretty acceptable.
“But to have the message that women are not welcome as members, can’t be members, can’t have playing rights over the course on the same basis as men, seems to send out entirely the wrong message about the future of golf.”
The simple fact of the matter is that the R&A need courses like Muirfield, Troon and Sandwich on the rota. As Dawson admitted, “to be quite honest, our primary duty I think as far as the Open championship is concerned, is to do what’s good for the Open championship. To kick out venues like Royal St Geroge’s, Troon and Muirfield would not be good for the Open and we wouldn’t think of doing it. Also, having six venues left behind (on the rota) isn’t actually enough.”
Freedom of speech
He added: “I just go back to the fact that I think private clubs can determine their own destiny. It’s like freedom of speech. I may disagree with what someone says but I will defend their right to say it. I feel similarly about this, especially as it’s such a small number (of clubs).”
It is estimated one in 100 clubs in Britain is single-sex, almost half of which are women-only.
“We borrow Muirfield’s golf course for two or three weeks every ten years. That’s what we do. They allow us to stage the Open championship . . . . personally I think this idea that it sends out a dreadful message to the world is considerably overblown, but that’s my own opinion,” said Dawson.
It is what it is.