Johannesburg – Muirfield, the exclusive, all-male Scottish golf club which is to host this year’s British Open where Ernie Els will defend his title, is coming under plenty of pressure to let women in – especially now that Augusta National have ended their ban on female members (although there’s only a couple).
But the male chauvinist fuddy-duddies that comprise the hoity-toity “Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers” (that’s what they call themselves) at Muirfield, the world’s oldest club whose members revel in ancient laws and traditions, have stubbornly refused to allow women to join their ranks.
Even the Scottish Government, who are promoting golf as a sport that boys and girls can play and will use the Open to put Scotland on an international stage, have urged the club to let ladies in – but to no avail.
Scottish comedienne Elaine C Smith had this to say: “I’m appalled by Muirfield on so many levels but I suppose outside a gay disco or a circus, this is the only place men can wear a lavender V-neck and tartan trews without being laughed at by women.”
I was fortunate enough to be at this self-same Muirfield on behalf of our newspaper group when Els won the 2002 Open there, and it was a chance for me to chat to Lewine Mair, the then distinguished golf correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.
The Muirfield secretary in those days was an eccentric former naval officer by the name of Paddy Hanmer, who didn’t suffer women gladly. Mair’s own clash with Hanmer came at a men’s Home Internationals meet between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The weather was so vile play was impossible, and officials called a meeting in the clubhouse. The male reporters filed in but Lewine was asked to remain outside. She objected spiritedly (as is her wont) and later learnt Captain Hamner had referred to her as “that bad-tempered little wife of Norman Mair (also a golf writer)”. A year later Lewine happened to bump into Hamner at another golf function. “I can recognise your face, but I can’t quite put a name to you,” he barked. “I’m Norman Mair’s bad-tempered little wife,” she quickly countered. Touché!
To this day another Open venue, Royal St George’s, does not admit lady members although women can play the course if accompanied by a male. At one time they were not even allowed to use the front door of the clubhouse, and the Queen Mother, when she was the Duchess of York, was obliged to use a side entrance which she found amusing but infuriated her daughter, Princes Margaret. Going right back to the late 19th century, lady golfers have not been easily tolerated in much of Britain. A “major” breakthrough, however, came in the 1930s when they were finally permitted to wear trousers on the course. At Royal St George’s the following appeared on the noticeboard: “Ladies are now allowed to wear trousers only on condition that they take them off on entering the clubhouse.”
Get your head around that one!
Closer to home the Joburg Open takes place next week at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington. And, yes, the club does admit women members. In fact they welcome them.