Inclusive championship forced to play on elite grounds

Contrary to the normal image presented of Muirfield – with discrimination against women top of the agenda in recent days – the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers has been instrumental in revolutionising the Open Championship with modern, forward-looking thinking. The first Open to be played at Muirfield in 1892 was the first played over four rounds and two days (instead of two rounds and one day).

The 1966 championship was the first to be played over four days (previously the last two rounds had been played on the Friday so the club professionals could return to their shops for the weekend). In 1980, the Open ended on a Sunday for the first time to maximise viewing opportunities for those on site and those in front of their television screens.

The Open Championship, as presented by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, revels in its openness. Any professional and any amateur with a low enough handicap can enter. Anybody can turn up at the gates and buy a ticket, with under-16s accompanied by an adult let in free. Television contracts are based as much on viewer reach as money, making the BBC, rather than Sky, the broadcaster of choice.

Where élitism and exclusivity creeps in is when it comes to the venues that stage the championship. Not in the sense of the membership criteria some of those clubs choose to adopt – which can appear abhorrent in the 21st century and are not reflective of the majority of clubs across the country – but in how many courses are actually capable of staging a modern, major sporting event such as the Open Championship.

Currently, the list contains only nine names and anyone who has put up with desultory accommodation in Carnoustie or tried to navigate a motorised vehicle around the medieval streets of Sandwich knows that if that list could be extended, it would be. Take out clubs that do not admit women members – such as the Honourable Company and the next two Open venues, Royal St George's and Royal Troon – and the list gets even shorter.

The right of association of private clubs is not in dispute. For such a club to benefit, both in monetary and publicity terms, from hosting the Open can be queried, but Muirfield is ranked (by Golf World magazine) as the best course in Britain and the Royal and Ancient want to test the best players on the best layouts.

It is the course, not the club, that is selected to host the Open, say the Royal and Ancient, who are not at their best when trying to justify the unjustifiable in not accepting women members themselves. "Social engineering" is not part of their remit, the club suggests.

Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, considers it may be. "Muirfield is a private club and it can do what it is doing, but it is the governing bodies I'm appealing to," Caborn said. "It's about trying to get the governing bodies to do all they can in the 21st century to get outside participation in sport. It would be good for the governing bodies to reflect to see if they are doing everything they can."

But Peter Dawson, the secretary of the R and A, responded bullishly when he said: "The Open Championship is one of the few world-class sporting events held in this country. I find it odd that a sports minister should knock us. We're the world governing body for golf. Junior golf gets help from us through the Golf Foundation. We raise what we can by rattling tins and collecting what funds we can.

"The government hasn't helped golf in any shape or form whatsoever. Maybe the sports minister should think about funding for golf if he wants to help the grass roots. If the sports minister wants to get in touch with us then he should give us a ring. I would be delighted to talk to him."

When Caborn phones, he could mention that it might be easier to help if the game in this country was not controlled by an amalgam of around 20 different bodies. In the meantime it is a shame if any extraneous issues should overshadow what will be a superbly-run championship on a classic links with a strong field and featuring possibly the finest sports person on the planet.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most