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Muirfield, the world’s oldest golf club, has voted to accept female members in a move that politicians argue will see it “enter the 21st century” and rejoin the elite venues granted the right to hold the Open Championship.

The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, a group of more than 600 men who run the 273-year-old course of Scotland’s east coast, have overturned a controversial ballot last year that had maintained its historic bar to women members.

On Tuesday, the golfing institution said just over 80 per cent had voted to admit women, although a sizeable minority, representing 123 members, maintained their opposition.

“This is a significant decision for a Club which was founded in 1744 and retains many of the values and aspirations of its founding Members,” said Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company.

“We look forward to welcoming women as members who will enjoy, and benefit from, the great traditions and friendly spirit of this remarkable club”.

Though the change has “immediate effect”, it will still take some time before the first female members are admitted. The club said: “the current waiting list for membership at Muirfield suggests that new candidates for membership, women and men, can expect to wait two to three years, or longer, to become a member of the club.”

Last May, Muirfield’s fraternity did not secure the two-third majority required to change its rules by a narrow margin. Some members expressed concern that women play too slowly, could ask to make the course easier and challenge existing lunch arrangements.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon called the decision “indefensible,” while her predecessor Alex Salmond tweeted: “Muirfield almost joined the rest of us in the 21st century… so near, yet so far.”

The prohibition on women led The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), which runs the Open Championship, which itself only opened to female membership in 2014, to strike Muirfield off the roster of clubs to hold the only “major” golf tournament held outside the United States.

At the time, some members argued the Scottish club, which charges green fees of £235, was wealthy enough to weather the financial hit. But the ensuing criticism surrounding the decision led its leadership to force a second ballot on the issue earlier this year.

For months, local politicians have put pressure on Muirfield’s members to reverse course. The R&A has estimated that the 2013 Open at Muirfield, won by the American Phil Mickelson, was worth £20m to the East Lothian area.

Muirfield decision ends its position as the final bastion of male privilege among the 14 venues to have held the Open.

The last English holdout, Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent fell in 2015, ending its 250-year rule against women members by admitting Princess Anne and Annika Sörenstam as its first female golfers. In July last year, Royal Troon in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to allow women members.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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