How Muirfield – the last bastion of bigotry – landed the Women’s Open?

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In June 2016, Elon Musk raised massive eyebrows on planet Earth with the claim that SpaceX would put humans on Mars by 2022. But at that point in history, even Musk’s bold promise would have seemed more realistic than the R&A calling a Women’s Open at Muirfield in the same time frame.

Except, as humanity continues to look to the stars and wonders, Martin Slumbers has somehow succeeded in the latest feat and as the best women in the world finally get a chance to compete on what many consider to be the best links of the game, it’s worth charting the remarkable metamorphosis of the East Lothians club, if only to prove that the theory that in golf everything automatically takes a long time is wrong.

Six years ago, on May 19, the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers voted to maintain its policy of admitting only men as members. Admittedly, the majority of members supported the committee’s desire to change, but it still fell short of the two-thirds requirement.

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And so poor Henry Fairweather, the enlightened captain who spearheaded the campaign for inclusion, after 272 years of same-sex existence, was forced to face the TV cameras outside the gates and announce that these zone without women is impossible to turn around.

In his St Andrews office, the newly installed R&A chief executive knew he had to act quickly and decisively. Golf was at a crossroads, the headlines were horrific.

“Yes, you could say that was an interesting and difficult period,” Slumbers told Telegraph Sport on Tuesday. The Brighton-born former banker had only been in the role for eight months and although the Royal and Ancient – the club from which the governing body was eventually formed – had itself allowed women to join only 18 months earlier, this violated the law. vision he had sold his plate.

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While his predecessor, Peter Dawson, had championed Muirfield’s right to be the standard-bearers of gender inequality — “same-sex clubs are perfectly legal and in our opinion don’t harm anyone,” Dawson said at the 2013 Open — and refused to think twice. on R&A impeachment, Slumbers saw it differently.

Within two hours of the red-faced Fairweather revealing the bad news, the R&A released a statement stating that “we will not be hosting the Open in a location that does not allow women as members in the future.” Muirfield was off the roster. Sixteen times it had hosted the British Major, but, unless reformed, never again. Ballsy barely began to describe Slumbers’ move.

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“It was difficult because while I had my opinion about equality and that that is central to our mission to drive growth in the sport, it was not up to us to tell a golf club what to do,” he said. “But what I think our statement did was bring the debate into focus and allow Muirfield to understand exactly where the R&A stood. They had clarity from us and that was important.

“We were in the process of merging with the Ladies Golf Union and it was a binary decision made with the knowledge of the captain of the honorable company at the time.”

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