Golfers play golf and politicians pontificate, so it’s hardly surprising that Ernie Els and Nick Faldo refused to tee off on the increasingly bifurcating issue roiling Muirfield ahead of this week’s British Open while some Scottish functionaries can’t yak enough about it.
We’re not talking about separate anchored-putting rules for professionals and everyone else. Rather, it’s the schism that’s growing between public officials threatening to boycott the major championship because of the host club’s male-only membership guidelines and the antiquated empty suits who haven’t turned the page of a calendar since before the flood.
It’s the same old story that annually dogged Augusta National until the tradition-bound home of the Green Jackets finally admitted women members last summer and raised a brief ruckus when the female-unfriendly Royal St. George’s hosted the Open Championship in 2011. And once the games kick off on Thursday at one of four all-male clans in the British Open rotation (the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and Royal Troon are the others), the drama will recede again, leaving the R&A dinosaurs to continue scratching, spitting, belching, and doing whatever else they enjoy in the privacy of their estrogen-free clubhouse.
“She's quite a hotheaded girl, just like my wife. I would have to choose my words carefully,” Els told reporters on Monday about how he would explain to his daughter why women can’t belong to clubs like the one hosting Daddy this week.
“You know, it's a hard one. The club's been like this for many years. It's been around for, I would imagine, at least 150 years, and they've never thought about changing their policy,” said Els, who observed he would play the Open Championship anywhere on the globe no matter the venue or its practices.
“We play The Open Championship at this wonderful golf course, and I'm not going to miss it for the world, whether it's got, unfortunately, the policy it has. It is what it is. But we go to play The Open Championship and I'll go play it in the Sahara Desert if I have to,” he said. “But it is what it is. You can ask the chairman why that policy is in place. It is what it is. And we play where we play.”
Faldo was far more economical in his dismissal of the brouhaha.
“That's for the club to decide,” said Sir Nick about the cozy confines where women may play but not join.
Despite luminaries such as defending champ Els, six-time major winner Faldo, last week’s Scottish Open winner Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and the best players in men’s golf descending upon East Lothian this week, some prominent Scottish officeholders planned to stay away in protest.
''I just think it's indefensible in the 21st century not to have a golf club that's open to all,'' Scottish First Minister and mega-golf fan Alex Salmond, who played a practice round with Mickelson during last week’s pro-am at Castle Stuart, told the BBC last month.
Salmond contended that he was unaware, when he took in the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, of that fraternity’s exclusionary membership approach. He was not the only Scottish politico who planned to be anywhere but Muirfield come Thursday.
''I would really encourage the R&A, when they next come to allocate the Open, to look at this, simply because of the message that it sends out,'' sports minister Hugh Robertson said in Sunday's Daily Telegraph, according to the AP. ''It just looks very, very out of touch and old fashioned in the post-Olympic era.''
Robertson conceded that private clubs had the right to block anyone they wished from membership but that such associations should be prohibited from staging Open Championships.
''In my mind,” said Robertson, “the problem comes when that private club fulfills a public function, which any golf club does when it hosts the Open.''
Maria Miller, Scotland’s secretary of culture, media, and sport, has also indicated she won’t be at Muirfield for the festivities. The absence of the lawmakers and editorials like Saturday’s in The Guardian calling Muirfield’s membership protocol “a tragedy” are bound to bother R&A chief executive Peter Dawson not a whit.
''To think the R&A might say to a club like Muirfield, 'You're not going to have the Open anymore unless you change your policy,’” Dawson told reporters in April, “is frankly a bullying position that we would never take.”