Muirfield calls emergency summit over men-only vote backlash

Henry Fairweather is heartened by support for women members. Picture: Jon Savage
Henry Fairweather is heartened by support for women members. Picture: Jon Savage
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Muirfield Golf Club has called an emergency meeting to discuss the backlash over its controversial decision not to allow women to become members, The Scotsman has learned.

It is believed the captain Henry Fairweather and his committee will sit down at the end of this month to discuss the fall-out of the recent vote which has now seen the sport’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient, remove the club’s right to host golf’s Open Championship. Pressure has increased on the club in the wake of a failed vote to rally a two-thirds majority of members behind allowing women to join with the decision sparking a debate on equality around the world.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon labelled the club’s stance “indefensible” while culture minister Fiona Hyslop said “in terms of our international profile it paints a completely distorted picture of modern ­Scotland”.
Iain Gray, the former Scottish Labour leader, has tabled a motion at Holyrood calling on the club to reconsider its stance “at the earliest opportunity”.

The East Lothian MSP said: “Muirfield Golf Club’s decision to reject female membership was wrong and outdated. It should be reversed as soon as possible.”

A letter issued to members ahead of the vote stated that the resolution to admit lady members “should not be approved at this time”.

The Scotsman can reveal signatories to that missive include two former Scotland rugby international players.

One of them, 12-times capped John Douglas, also enjoyed a memorable success as a racehorse owner when Rubstic became the first Scottish-trained horse to win the Grand National at Aintree in 1979.

Also among those to put their name to the letter is 
Francis Gibb, who was the chief marshal when the club staged the 2002 Open Championship.

It has been estimated that the club’s loss of The Open means the local economy will miss out on a £45 million boost every ten to 12 years, which is the average gap between golf’s oldest major being staged at all the courses on the R&A’s rota apart from St Andrews, where it is now held every five years.

While the majority of the members, 397, voted in favour of the proposal to bring down the club’s men-only barriers after 272 years, 219 voted against it.

The letter that was circulated to members also stated: “Change must come slowly and for choice should be evolutionary. A traditional resistance to change is one of the foundations of our unique position in golf and our reputation.”

Douglas, who made his dozen appearances for Scotland between 1961 and 1963, put his name to that letter along with one of his two sons, Nigel.

Hamish Inglis, an 84-year-old who played seven times for Scotland, is the other former rugby international on the list, which also includes Geoffrey Alderson, a retired director at Scobie & McIntosh Ltd.
Another member who supported the contents of the letter is John Hendry, who owns Muirfield Green bed & breakfast in Gullane. “Yes,” he admitted to The Scotsman, he was among the 33. “But it wasn’t a no letter, by the way. I think you are reading it as a no letter. I think you should read it more carefully.”

Asked if he was happy that the vote had fallen the way he wanted given the letter urged members to “vote against the resolution”, he added: “I’m not going to comment on that. But I think you should read the letter more carefully.”

Yesterday a source told The Scotsman that Mr Fairweather, a former HR director of Scottish & Newcastle, and his committee will sit down at the end of this month to discuss the fall-out over the decision.

The captain has no intention of giving up hope that women will one day become members, insisting he was heartened by both a 95 per cent participation in the postal ballot and also the proposal receiving support from the majority of the club’s 750 members, 648 of whom were eligible to vote.