Muirfield Golf Club Cause Social Media Crisis & Fury

by Kenny Murray

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Twitter reacts as the world’s oldest golf course decides to continue block on female membership

Henry Fairweather, captain of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, at Muirfield, announces the members didn't get the required two thirds to accept women into the men only club, resulting in a no vote IN PIC................. (c) Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS For pic details, contact Wullie Marr........... 07989359845

PG WODEHOUSE said, “To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” And that particular line has come to the front of my mind this morning as I watch the social media fall-out from the Muirfield Golf Club decision to not open their club to female members.

Muirfield is a privately owned club and is the oldest golf club in the world, established in 1744. The world was a very different place back then. America was still a colony, France had declared war on Britain and Scotland was in the midst of a Jacobite rebellion. Women didn’t even have the vote.

Muirfield argue that their members, who are members of a privately owned club should be allowed to dictate the rules of their business. I agree with that, I just happen to disagree with their decision – but I’m not a member of their club, so what does my opinion matter?

My opinion doesn’t matter too much – but in the age of the internet. What would be considered the decision of a private club and their members becomes an open debate, a free for all where anybody and everybody has the ability to pass comment on the decision, regardless of whether they enjoy golf or even knew of the club beforehand. This internet driven debate has the power to overturn governments, as we seen with the Arab Spring and resignations across different governments when a politician gets caught doing wrong. So too, does it have the power to strip the world’s oldest golf club of the oldest of the four major championships in professional golf, The British Open.

Not even an hour after the decision had been announced, had the power of social media and modern day media resulted in the R&A stripping Muirfield of the right to hold the British Open at their club.

This tweet has gained over 1,000 retweets and so many replies, that quite frankly my computer froze when I attempted to scroll through them all. There has been more than 340 news paper articles on the decision, a motion in the house of commons and professional golfer after professional golfer lining up to criticise the decision online.

What impact does that really have though? Sure, they may have lost The Open – but if they can keep functioning how they want, perhaps they’ll just plough on and continue to do what they’re doing?

However, tourism is vital to the Scottish economy and I’d argue in particular to golf clubs and golf courses. With a round of Golf at Muirfield fetching £220 per person, minus all the other attachments they could face quite a financial penalty for sticking to their guns.

How far has discussion on the decision really spread though? Using the analytics tool, FollowtheHashtag I decided to check it out for myself.

Map of online discussions on Muirfield

This remarkable image shows just how far around the world that the discussion has gone. It seems most major nations are discussing it, with millions of Twitter users worldwide now seeing Muirfield matched alongside hashtags such as #sexistpigs and other more rude ones that I’d not like to use on our blog – they’re there though.

A funny piece of data though, is that of those discussing the decision, almost 70% are men. So, it’s not an army of women angry at the decision, but men around the world rallying to criticise Muirfield – so that’s their target market pretty annoyed.




In fact, this graph shows tweets per minute since the decision was announced yesterday and you can see that pretty much straight away it kicks off. In fact, the number of tweets outstrips the people who are actually seeing them. This means that people are so ticked off with the decision and are in such an angry fervour, clamouring to tweet about it that they’re not even taking the time to read the other tweets about the topic.


This image is a heatmap of tweets. The closer to red, the larger the number of tweets. Now I’m not the PR guy for Muirfield, but I’d be certain that this ticks the box of a number of their target markets for tourist visitors (not including China as they deny Twitter full access to the country).  Although, there are a number of tweets from users in Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq who are tweeting about it and all I’d say is that these are mostly favourable – or so Google translate would tell me.


So what’s the lesson then?

Accept that everyone has an opinion and given the opportunity, they’re going to voice it. In fact – it’s hard not to. You either need to decide as a business that you’ll continue to do whatever you want and damned be the consequences. Or you can have in place a social media crisis plan.

If Muirfield had planned ahead of their decision and looked to manage it properly, perhaps it may not have got so out of hand. Or maybe, stopping women from golfing on a private course was always going to cause this level of internet activism. Whether it actually damages their business has yet to be seen.

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Social media crisis don’t always come out of controversial decisions. Sometimes they can sneak up unannounced and ruin businesses in a day due to the behaviour of one individual person on one particular day. However, if you have a plan in place and access to the right insight, you could stop it before it even gets started. Find out what we could do for you by getting in touch using the form below:

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Kenny Murray of Holyrood PR in Edinburgh, Scotland

Private: Kenny Murray

Kenny Murray is part of the expert PR team at Holyrood PR, an award-winnning Scottish public relations agency, which offers media relations, social media, photography, video, crisis management and PR in Edinburgh.

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