A vote on admitting women members at Muirfield is hanging in the balance after a group of members at the East Lothian club launched a ‘no’ campaign.
The Scotsman understands that their decision to canvas fellow members via a letter has left club officials, who have recommended that membership to ladies is offered on the “same basis as men”, fearing a major setback when the result of a postal vote is declared tomorrow.
“The results of the ballot are not yet known because it is being handled by the Electoral Reform Society, but a two-thirds majority is required and it is going to be very close,” said a source.
An extensive membership review has been ongoing at Muirfield, home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, since the 2013 Open was played there against a backdrop of criticism due to its men-only policy.
It had been hoped that it would lead to the East Lothian club falling into line with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and Royal St George’s in Kent after they both admitted women members inside the past two years.
But the letter sent out by a 33-strong ‘no’ group is believed to have had a bigger impact on a postal vote that closes today than the club’s board had anticipated, leaving it anything but confident about securing sufficient support.
Sent to The Scotsman, the letter was issued by members who believe the proposal to admit women members “should not be approved at this time” and have urged fellow members to give the matter “very careful thought” before voting due to it being a “very major change and will involve inevitable risk”.
The letter states: “It is recognised that it is a very sensitive matter and the club is in a difficult position, but associations like ours with a very long and venerable history have strengths which are derived from that history.
“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.”
Muirfield, where The Open has been staged 16 times since the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved in 1891, has long been renowned for being a club that is insular.
The letter continues: “In the last two-and-a-half years, there has been a considerable effort to consider the question whether to admit lady members - a prospect which may not previously have been on the agenda or even contemplated. It would appear to have been prompted largely by media and political comment at the time of the 2013 Open.
“Whilst there are many members who feel strongly that we should stay as we are (and it is not inconceivable that such may be the final decision) it is maintained that there is a strong case for the debate to continue and in particular for marketing and financial assessment to discover what actually attracts our visitors, prospective new members and possible future lady members to determine what changes, if any, the club should make.”
The ‘no’ group say they are confident that Muirfield wouldn’t be dropped by the R&A from its rota for The Open, though that remains to seen, of course.
“On the balance of issues, would the R&A actually remove HCEG from The Open circuit given the economic benefit to the national and local economy and the lack of suitable supply of alternative venues?” the latter asks. “Their position should be researched and made clear and in particular the timescale whereunder we may attempt to satisfactorily address or dispense with the issues.
“It is accepted that we may have to change, but we should not do so now on the basis suggested. We have had a lengthy process, but it is felt that there is time to pause and consider further options to develop the club and it is hoped retain The Open.
“It is recommended that members vote against the resolution to change our rules to include the admission of lady members.”
Meanwhile, this year’s Open venue, Royal Troon, has now written to its 800 male members “seeking views on the issue of the admission of women members”.