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Fumbling Toward Equality

by Lewine Mair - March 20, 2017

MUIRFIELD, SCOTLAND | In voting to take women, the men of Muirfield have opted for a strict interpretation of the word “equality.” Instead of making provision for a number of women members to be fast-forwarded into the club, as applied at St Andrews, they decided that the newcomers should take their place on the six- or seven-year waiting list.

Henry Fairweather, the club captain, said that the list can be manipulated a tad but his gut feeling was that it would probably be a minimum of two to three years before the first of the women members could step through the wrought-iron gates.

The club would have been expecting a bit of flack on this count when, intriguingly, rather more controversy has attached to the fact that 123 of the members were still against taking women at all. “Horrendous,” cried Rory McIlroy. Charley Hull, meantime, is calling for the Ricoh Women’s British Open to be staged at the club.

At a guess, the Muirfield members’ attitude towards the waiting-list situation was a less-than-good-natured, “If women want equality they can have it.” Such a stance is very much in keeping with the times and many a modern miss would not want things to be any other way. Yet some at least of those associated with this august establishment must surely have wondered if, now the die is cast, a bit of good old-fashioned gallantry would not have gone amiss.

We might see it yet … What if the first man to be plucked from the waiting list in the wake of the changes were to stand aside and insist that his place go to a woman? Just a thought …

Muirfield captain Henry Fairweather said that the fiasco surrounding the vote of 2016 had damaged the club's proud reputation - and that he hoped that the latest announcement would mark the beginning of their recovery.

Moving on, the media now has another discrimination issue to dissect. Namely, that concerning the Kasumigaseki Country Club, which is down to host golf at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Though women cannot be full members and are banned from playing on Sundays, it seems that no-one thought to check in advance as to whether the venue had any regulations which might make for trouble.

Where Muirfield needed a two-thirds majority to agree on a change of constitution, Kasumigaseki requires the unanimous approval of a 15-man board. Some of the 15 will almost certainly want to go along with whatever is required, simply for the prestige which can attach to Olympic involvement. Others, though, will not want to be railroaded into resolving a situation which they thought affected no-one other than themselves.

Loss of face is a big deal on that side of the world, with no better illustration (although one of little account) than what happens at the Pinx Golf Club in South Korea. There, the stream in front of the 18th green is as full of spanking new golf balls as it is with pebbles, the reason being that members would sooner drop another ball than be seen fishing for the original.

The Kasumigaseki membership might like to know that most of the all-male Open Championship venues which have had to change direction have undergone an element of loss of face.

The process began on that day in 2012 when Augusta National pulled a fast one on their single-sex counterparts. What they did was to name two women members and, even if scientists might suggest that the pair have hardly flourished in that their number has only increased to three in five years, that is hardly the point. The big thing is that they got in first and it was no fun for the rest to have to follow.

Things unravelled in this order. The Royal and Ancient took the plunge in 2014-15, followed by Royal St George’s, Royal Troon and Muirfield. Troon, incidentally, made the necessary adjustments ahead of last summer’s Open when they learned that Muirfield’s original “no women” vote had cost the club its place on the Open rota.

Last Tuesday, Fairweather said that the fiasco surrounding the vote of 2016 had damaged the club’s proud reputation – and that he hoped that the latest announcement would mark the beginning of their recovery.

To be fair, the committee is off to a good start in this regard, simply because of the honest and open way they have handled their mixed and possibly ongoing bag of problems. They lost face and they admitted to having lost it.

The waiting-list arrangement is a bit of a disaster but, to look at it another way, prospective candidates might need two or three years to prepare. Firstly, they will have to pick up a yard or so if they are to do as the men in completing 18 holes of the club’s time-honoured foursomes match-play format in less than three hours. (The Curtis Cup women, in each of their last two matches on this side of the Atlantic, needed close to five hours.) Also, they would do well to work on their length and strength.

Though the red-carpet treatment may well await when finally they put in an appearance, there will be no ladies’ tees. Instead, they will use the same blue tees as the men and play the course at just less than 6,000 yards. In other words, at a length associated with top women’s amateur events.

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