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Former BBC Chief Claims Legendary British Golf Club Was Anti-Semitic

Lord Grade’s claim comes amid Muirfield’s controversial vote to continue its men-only membership policy

Jonathan Zalman
May 25, 2016
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
enry Fairweather, chair of Muirfield Golf Club poses in front of the clubhouse in Gullane, Scotland, May 19, 2016. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
enry Fairweather, chair of Muirfield Golf Club poses in front of the clubhouse in Gullane, Scotland, May 19, 2016. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

It’s not every day we’re presented with an opportunity to write about golf, which is a shame, because it’s a fantastic game. It’s also, apparently, stuck in the Stone Age.

Issues of gender equality is not a new conversation in golf, particularly at Augusta National in the U.S., which hosts the Masters every year and only began to admit female members in 2014. This week, the committee at Scottish golf club Muirfield voted to continue to “retain its men-only membership policy,” announced the club’s captain Henry Fairweather, after it failed to vote a two-thirds majority that would have enabled women to become members. “Women will continue to be welcome on the course and in the clubhouse as guests and visitors, as they have been for many years.”

The Scotsman reported the following reasoning, from a letter they obtained from the Scottish club:

We are not an ordinary club. Our special nature; ‘a gentleman’s club where golf is played’ is quite unique with its fraternity built inter alia on foursomes play with a round taking only the same time as lunch and leaving enough time for a further round after lunch (even in mid winter). This is one of the miracles in modern day play and is much admired. Our foursomes and speedy play would be endangered.

In response to this decision, there has been both backlash and immediate financial consequences, reported Edinburgh Evening News, as “the sport’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient, remove[d] the club’s right to host golf’s Open Championship.” The major championship has been held at Muirfield 16 times.

Amid this row, Michael Ian Grade (aka Lord Grade), the former chairman of the BBC, claimed that he was barred from playing Muirfield in the early ’80s. It’s an incident he says causes him to this day to “steer clear of any clubs that have a reputation for being anti-Jewish.” Reported The Telegraph:

Lord Grade said he was invited by the late Sir William Brown, the former head of Scottish Television, to play at Muirfield during a visit to the Edinburgh Festival in the early 80s. Sir William was a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews at the time.

“[H]e rang me and said it was all fixed, and we had a tee time on a particular day. I was really looking forward to it, obviously, because Muirfield is one of those courses that every golfer wants to play.

“About a week or so later he rang again and said he needed to give them the name of my home club and my handicap, and I told him it was 17 and Coombe Hill.”

He said Coombe Hill, near Kingston in Surrey, was well-known for having a predominantly Jewish membership.

“He rang back a day later and said ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but as soon as I said Coombe Hill the invitation was withdrawn’. I asked him if there was a particular reason, and he said, ‘You know why, Michael’.

“Golf is full of that. A friend of mine once asked me if I wanted to join another club which was said to have a ‘No Jews’ policy. He said he wanted to test them out, so he put my name forward and I was turned down.

Muirfield has denied Grade’s claims, stating “it would be illegal” to discriminate against a person on the basis of religion.

There’s no denying, however, their discriminatory views on gender.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.