Following a lengthy period of consultation with existing members and encouragement from the club's committee to allow female members, the existing membership fell just short of the two thirds of voters required to make the change. The club, which has hosted the Open championship on 16 occasions was one of only two clubs on the list of 10 eligible to host the event that retained a ban on women members. The other club, Royal Troon, is hosting the Open this year but has opened up consultation with its members on the issue. Royal Troon are also in a slightly different position in that the club shares certain of its facilities with Ladies' Golf Club Troon albeit both have separate clubhouses.
But how can this still happen? The Equality Act 2010 requires that associations must not discriminate against a person in deciding who to admit to membership, the terms of that membership or by not accepting a membership application at all. However, Muirfield is benefitting from an exception to this rule. Schedule 16 of the Act allows "single characteristic associations" to directly discriminate on grounds of protected characteristic (such as gender) in certain circumstances. This allows the club to restrict membership to persons who share the protected characteristic of being "male".
Despite the availability of this exception Muirfield's decision does go against what had appeared to be a turning of the tide in relation to men only golf clubs. Over the past couple of years the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and Royal St George's had voted to allow female members, as had Augusta in 2012 when high profile new members included Condoleezza Rice.
The R&A has made clear that it would have been some years before Muirfield would have been considered for hosting the Open in any event and that should they change their policy in the future then they will be reconsidered. The swift action of the R&A will no doubt give the membership at Royal Troon something to consider when they are consulted on the same issue.