Royal and Ancient on Muirfield gender issueLast week, the Muirfield Golf Club near Edinburgh Scotland, a very private golf club, voted to maintain its “men-only” membership policy and to prohibit women members. Muirfield has hosted at least sixteen British Opens and its male-only-gender policy then didn’t seem to matter.
After learning of the vote, the R&A announced that in light of the club’s “male-only” policy Muirfield will no longer be able to host any future British Opens and will be taken out of the R&A’s rotation policy.


  • Scotland is where it began:  Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) is often identified as the founder of the game of golf. The first “ladies-only golf club” was in fact built in Scotland in 1867. (see History Timeline on my web site).
  • Many golf clubs in many countries are still for “men only” or restrict access for women golfers. Many “truly private” clubs in the United States, for example, are lawfully allowed to restrict women’s tee times and tournaments. Golfers in the U.S. continue to test the legality of gender restrictions and the lines between private and public golf facilities.
  • So.. It was very big news when in 2014, the famous Scottish club — the Royal & Ancient Golf Club — voted to admit female members — a “tipping point” in golf’s struggle with gender equity.
  • muirfield tweetsThe R&A (Royal and Ancient) based in St. Andrews, Scotland, is completely separate from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Formed in 2004, the R&A — together with the United State Golf Association USGA governs the rules of golf worldwide. The R&A also determines which clubs host the prestigious English and Scottish golf tournaments just as the USGA selects host venues for its major tournaments.
  • The British Open, often just called “The Open”, is a major tournament and has attracted male golfers from all over the world for many years. The Open is on the PGA Tour schedule and will be held July 14-17, 2016 at the Royal Troon Golf Course in Scotland. Interestingly, Royal Troon also does not accept female members. The venues for these major championships are set years ahead; so, not much to do about changing the upcoming British Open now.
  • Although it didn’t get much attention, ten years ago in October 2005, the R&A announced that women golfers could qualify for The British Open. The R&A’s concept of gender equity in the game of golf is really a decade old. Around the same time, the USGA took the word “men” out of the qualifications for its U.S.Open. (But, read the fine print: In order to qualify for the U.S. Open, golfers must have a “men’s” Handicap Index.)

There is also a Women’s British Open. The RICOH British Open is a major on the LPGA Tour and will be played at the Woburn Golf Club just outside London July 25-31, 2016. So… there’s a men’s British Open and a women’s British Open…. fair enough??

Who Cares?

Well, I do. As a U.S. citizen, I cherish our country’s Constitutional liberties that protect citizens from gender-based discrimination. As an avid female golfer, I want more and more women to play this game and love it as I do. But, as a former lawyer, I also understand our rights of privacy and rights to be with people we want to be with. And by the way, many of our common law rights come from English common law.
But, our “right to privacy” is a hard concept to interpret sometimes. It was personally troubling for me when Augusta National and the Masters were broadly televised all over the world and yet Augusta National claimed it was “private” club and therefore had the right to deny females membership. Augusta now admits female members (not enough… but that’s another story.) And its Drive Chip and Putt competition for both girls and boys is an outstanding example of gender equity.
The R&A led the way in allowing women to qualify for the British Open (even though none has done so to date). Augusta led the way in admitting women members. The LPGA and Commissioner Mike Whan have significantly increased the visibility of women golfers all over the world. The upcoming Rio Olympics includes comparable competitions for both men and women.
And, finally, what if a woman were to qualify for the British Open (absolutely permitted now) and the tournament was at the Muirfield Golf Club? The decision of the R&A was really an easy one to make. There is no way that Muirfield can be a British Open site when it does not accept women members. Let’s see what Royal Troon does after the upcoming British Open …. to be continued!

Nancy Berkley
Nancy Berkley

Nancy Berkley is an expert on women’s golf and junior-girls golf in the U.S. A special interest of hers is encouraging business women to enjoy golf with colleagues and clients. Nancy is a member of the World Golf Foundation Women’s Committee and a member of the National Golf Foundation. Nancy is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University, Rutgers Law School and has a degree from the Professional Management Program of Harvard Business School.

Describing herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential, Nancy shares news about women’s golf – along with her opinions on and You can also follow Nancy on Facebook and Twitter.


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