Mind Games: No woman, no cry at British Open

Dan Mind Games: No woman, no cry at British Open

When you think of it, in this day and age it is incomprehensible that the British Open championship is being staged at a golf club that does not permit female members.

It might have been acceptable in 1860, when the old championship was first contested, even late into the last century in a male-dominated society – but in 2013? Surely it is just not right.

The issue of the refusal by the Muirfield club, whose members somewhat incongruously call themselves the “Honourable” Society of Edinburgh Golfers when, in fact, they fall short on this key issue, has been a distraction to the playing of the 142nd Open championship this week.

Interestingly, all but 24-year-old Rory McIlroy of the great golf champions gathered in Scotland have been willing to speak out about what surely is discrimination.

It’s a question of morality, of what is right and proper, and the game is not dealing with it.

The poser was put to each of the former major winners and current leading players trotted out before the media in the vast marquee, with space for some 400 journalists.

Most chose to avoid the issue, mumbling platitudes that “it is what it is” and that they don’t make the rules.

Certainly, when the world’s oldest championship is at stake and your entire being is focused on playing as well as possible, you don’t want to be dealing with controversial issues, but it was nevertheless surprising that only McIlroy was in any way critical – and even then he had to be coaxed.

The young Northern Irishman, who is involved in a well-publicised relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, might have expected to be grilled over his dramatic loss of form since switching to Nike clubs, but instead was interrogated over an issue from which his elders shied away.

In the end, his criticism, seized upon by the press as “hitting out”, was actually quite gentle: “It’s something that we shouldn’t even be talking about. It’s something that shouldn’t happen. I don’t think it’s a real issue any more. Clearly for some clubs it is,” he said.

The R&A, golf’s governing body, and Muirfield are not the only exclusively male domains. Two other courses on The Open roster, Royal St George’s and Royal Troon, are also male only and, of course, it wasn’t until earlier this year that Augusta National in America, where the US Masters is staged, admitted its first female members, former US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and financier Darla Moore.

It has been claimed that “golf” stands for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden” and there is a tale about the former secretary of St Andrews who, when asked about the club’s lack of lady members, replied that it was because the club had no toilet facilities for women.

Asked why these were not built, he archly replied that as the club had no female members there was no demand to build them! The R&A, by way of secretary Peter Dawson, has consistently defended the right of groups to associate with whomever and under what conditions they like.

Said Dawson: “For some people, it’s a way of life they rather like. If, on a Saturday morning, a guy gets out of the marital bed and plays golf with his chums, that is not on any kind of par with racial discrimination, anti-Semitism or any of those things. It’s just what people do.”

Fair and well, but when golf, or any other activity for that matter, moves into the public realm, the rules of engagement change.

What I find unacceptable is that all these men have wives, girlfriends, daughters. How do they square it with them?

» dan.retief@citypress.co.za

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