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Golf gender storm brewing

15 July 2013, 11:28

Inverness - A storm is brewing at Muirfield.

Not of the weather variety that reduced the world's top players to jibbering wrecks when the British Open was last held there in 2002. But the kind of storm that has erupted at a number of majors in recent years, relating to the barring of female members at clubs hosting golf's biggest events.

The 2013 host Muirfield is one of three courses on the Open rota - with Troon and Royal St George's - to have men-only membership, an attitude that has been widely criticised as not only out-of-date but damaging to the reputation of the sport.

Augusta National, home of the Masters, used to have the same policy until it decided last year to invite former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Carolina financier Darla Moore to become the first female members since the club was founded in 1932. It was seen as a key move - "important to golf," Tiger Woods said at the time.

The R&A, organiser of the British Open and also a male-only membership organisation, isn't for turning however. And things could get heated this week as the world's oldest major returns to Muirfield in east Scotland, where women are allowed to play and have access to its facilities but can't take up membership.

Some prominent politicians won't be attending this year's event in protest.

"I just think it's indefensible in the 21st century not to have a golf club that's open to all," said Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, a huge golf fan who played a round with Phil Mickelson in the pro-am before the Scottish Open this week.

Salmond attended the 2011 British Open at Royal St George's, but said on Saturday he didn't realise at the time that the club had a male-only policy.

Two British government members - Maria Miller, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, and sports minister Hugh Robertson - have also turned down invitations to attend.

"I would really encourage the R&A, when they next come to allocate the Open, to look at this, simply because of the message that it sends out," Robertson said in Sunday's Daily Telegraph. "It just looks very, very out of touch and old fashioned in the post-Olympic era."

Robertson acknowledged that private clubs are within their right to have the single-sex policy, but added: "In my mind, the problem comes when that private club fulfils a public function, which any golf club does when it hosts The Open."

Members of the R&A, notably chief executive Peter Dawson, will be put up in front of the media on Wednesday - a day before the Open begins. It could be some grilling.

Dawson has defended the decision of his organisation to select Muirfield, formally known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, as the host of the 2013 Open.

"I don't deny my job would be made a lot easier if this issue didn't exist, that's self-evident," Dawson said in April. "But one might choose to respect the wishes of members of these clubs, which are virtually unanimous in a place like St Andrews, that the status quo works extremely well for them."

Dawson has also said that telling Muirfield that it can't host the Open unless its membership policy changes is "frankly a bullying position that we would never take."

The issue has been given fresh impetus in Britain in the wake of a sexism row that blew up at Wimbledon last week.

A BBC Radio presenter, John Inverdale, was condemned for comments directed at French player Mario Bartoli as she prepared for Saturday's women's singles final, which she won in straight sets.

"Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little, 'You're never going to be a looker? You'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight,'" Inverdale said.

He has apologised. But the incident is fresh in the mind of many as sport's latest sexism debate winds its way to Muirfield.

- AP



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