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19 May 2016, 12:37
Muirfield will no longer host the Open Championship after members voted against allowing women golfers to join the club.
Owned and run by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the East Lothian club has been reviewing its membership criteria in a two-year consultation process.
The results of a ballot of members was announced on Thursday and failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to change policy and allow female members.
Of its 750 members, some 397, or 64%, voted in favour of admitting women and 219, or 36%, voted against.
Golf governing body The R&A said it will not stage the The Open at a course that does not admit women as members.
Muirfield, which last hosted the prestigious competition in 2013, will now be removed from The Open rota but could be considered in future if it changes its policy on female membership.
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, said: "We have consistently said that it is a matter for the Honourable Company to conduct a review of its membership policy and that we would await their decision.
"The R&A has considered today's decision with respect to The Open Championship.
"The Open is one of the world's great sporting events and, going forward, we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members.
"Given the schedule for staging The Open, it would be some years before Muirfield would have been considered to host the Championship again.
"If the policy at the club should change, we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.''
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: ``Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life. It is 2016. This is simply indefensible.''
Muirfield and Troon were the only remaining clubs on the 10-strong Open rota to have a male-only membership policy.
Royal St George's voted last year to admit women members while St Andrews voted to end its 260-year-old male-only membership policy in September 2014.
Troon has always considered itself a "special case'' as it shares facilities with the Ladies Golf Club, Troon. Both clubs will shoulder the responsibility of hosting this year's Open via a joint Championship committee.
A ''comprehensive review'' of membership policy was announced by Troon in January 2015 but the issue will not be resolved until the ''back end'' of 2016.
Muirfield club captain Henry Fairweather announced the results of the members ballot at the clubhouse in Gullane on Thursday.
He said: ''The Honourable Company is a members club and, as such, the members decide the rules of the club, including its membership policy.
"Women will continue to be welcome at Muirfield on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors, as they have been for many years.''
Scottish professional golfer Heather MacRae tweeted: "The 1st time I played Muirfield I had to sit outside after the game as I wasn't allowed in.
"I sat and watched a member go in with his dog!''
George Kerevan, MP for East Lothian, has written to the club and urged it to hold a second ballot.
He said: "This utterly selfish move sends entirely the wrong message to the rest of the world about our county, as well as undermining years of collective effort and public support to attract visitors to Scotland's historic 'golf coast' in East Lothian.
"It also tells young women in our schools that their interest in the sport is being discouraged by some, and it sends a very wrong message to young men about treating women as equals.
"The negative impact on the reputation of East Lothian cannot be overstated and it certainly threatens the ability of the county to attract major golfing events in the future. I urge the club to continue internal discussions and hold a second ballot.''
East Lothian MSP Iain Gray described the decision and subsequent loss of future Open Championships as a "disaster'' for the area.
Muirfield captain Mr Fairweather said he was "disappointed'' with the result of the vote.
"The committee recommended that women should be admitted as members of the club so, yes, I am disappointed with the decision,'' he said.
"We have been through a very thorough process, the members have been thoroughly engaged in that process, and I think they will want time to reflect on this decision.
"This is a members' club and the members can, at any time, put forward a resolution to change the rules of the club.
"But as far as I and the committee are concerned, we believe this decision has been reached after a proper process and we will respect that result.''
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was founded in 1744 and is said to be the oldest recorded golf club in the world.
It set down the original rules of golf in 1744 and has hosted the Open at Muirfield 16 times.