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Friday, March 17, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Muirfield Vote

Rory McIlroy made headlines this week (again) when he expressed his frustration with the Muirfield vote to allow women members, thus regaining their status on the Open rota. While he was glad the membership finally "saw sense" (as he put it), he wasn't impressed by how long it took them to finally get it right. The word he used was "obscene."

I think most of us agree with Rory that the concession was way overdue. But I feel that the whole debate has ignored something very basic about human beings, and that's what this post is about.
Let me be blunt about this: Although we'd all like things to be done for the "right" reasons, change is a messy operation because we humans don't like change and we are far from perfect when we deal with it. And in our frustration with the messiness of it all, we have a tendency to miss the positive aspects of the process.
Let's go back a year to the original Muirfield vote, where the required 2/3 majority was narrowly missed. I want to emphasize that phrase "narrowly missed," since I've heard it used several times by the media.

It's very easy to assume that organizations are little more than a single monolithic group of people who all believe EXACTLY the same way. But we all know that's not true, don't we? When a group we identify with is characterized as all having the same beliefs -- and we don't -- we get really upset for being "stereotyped." We complain that a "vocal minority" doesn't represent what we think, and we resent being grouped in with them.

But isn't that exactly what has been done to the membership of Muirfield?

Not every member at Muirfield voted at the original proposal. For the sake of this article, I'm going to assume that none of the nonvoters wanted women to join but didn't want to be publicly associated with that stance. I doubt that was true -- there could be any number of reasons that some members chose not to vote -- but since they didn't vote, it had the same effect as if they voted against the motion. Namely, there were fewer voters to be part of the 2/3 majority that was needed.

But in our condemnation of the result, we focused on the slightly-more-than-1/3 who voted against the motion, didn't we? In fact, A SUBSTANTIAL MAJORITY OF THE MEMBERSHIP VOTED TO ALLOW FEMALE MEMBERSHIP. I imagine the largest part of them were in favor of female membership all along... but overturning tradition is a hard thing in many institutions.

And clearly a large number voted to allow women simply to keep Muirfield's spot in the rota. These voters are being vilified for that. They should have been progressive, we argue, and allowed women to join simply because it's the right thing to do! But I think that's being a bit harsh. Just think about it for a moment...

A spot on the rota means you get the Open roughly once a decade. A decade is roughly 520 weeks, while the Open lasts for one week. If you're truly against having female members, how can you possibly believe that one week of the Open is worth 510 weeks of dealing with these hated female members ON A DAILY BASIS? I'd argue that these members said, in effect, that although they felt no compulsion to allow women members, THEY HAD NO PROBLEM WITH ALLOWING THEM EITHER. It was simply tradition and they'd had no reason to change. But now they had a reason, so they voted to change.

Given the normally messy process of change, I'd say that's actually a fairly progressive mindset! It may not satisfy those who want everything to happen as it would in a perfect world, but it still shows a willingness to move forward and accept change.

That's what probably happened a year ago. What happened in the meantime that led up to this week's vote?

I'd say that the "narrowly" outvoted majority -- both those who were vocal about accepting women and those who simply had no problem with accepting them -- became much more vocal at the club. How do I think that played out?

We heard that originally there were some members who resented being told what to do by the R&A. The vocal minority probably convinced them that the R&A wouldn't dare enforce the vote against the membership's will. THEY WERE PROVEN WRONG. Do you think that the members who voted to allow women hesitated to let them know that their stubbornness had cost Muirfield the Open? I don't, and I don't think it took much shaming to get a "yes" vote from them this time.

As for the true hardliners who resented letting women in, I suspect the rest of the membership made sure they felt the burden of tainting Muirfield's reputation. And I wouldn't be surprised if a few of their wives didn't let them know that, if they were too good to share a locker with a woman, they were too good to share a bed with one, as well! How many meals do you think those husbands missed? How many days did they have only dirty shirts to wear?

Yes, I suspect that happened to at least of few of them. Men who are that stubborn probably aren't the easiest to live with, and their wives had probably decided to let them know in no uncertain terms.

So Muirfield will now accept women members. Before you judge the club too harshly, simply because some of those hardliners will likely be less than friendly to the new women members, remember this:
Let me be blunt one more time: Eventually, those relics of antiquity will die from old age and no longer be members of the club. And when new members come in, they will do with the knowledge that women will also be members and there's not one damn thing they can do about it. If they don't like that, they'll go elsewhere.
In the end, Muirfield will be a place where female members are welcome for all the right reasons. It's how the rather messy process of change works in a world of imperfect human beings. Let's just be thankful that the vast majority of Muirfield members decided to embrace that process and let it take its normal course.

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