by Robin MILLARD
Scottish golf course Muirfield voted Tuesday to admit female members, which immediately allows the historic links to regain its status as a British Open venue.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which dates back to 1744, voted in favour of admitting women members for the first time by 498 to 123, club captain Henry Fairweather announced.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), the sport's joint-ruling body with the United States Golf Association, said Muirfield could now become a venue for the British Open once again.
"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," Fairweather said.
"We look forward to welcoming women as members who will enjoy, and benefit from, the great traditions and friendly spirit of this remarkable club."
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: "In the light of today's decision by the Honourable Company we can confirm that Muirfield will become a venue for The Open once again.
"Muirfield has a long and important history of hosting The Open and with today's announcement that will continue.
"It is extremely important for us in staging one of the world's great sporting events that women can become members at all of our host clubs.
"Muirfield is a truly outstanding Open venue and we very much look forward to taking the Championship back there in future."
In a statement, the club said the current waiting list suggested that new candidates for membership could expect to wait two to three years, or longer, to join the club.
Muirfield has staged the Open on 16 occasions since 1892 and most recently in 2013, when America's Phil Mickelson won. It was due to host the Open again in 2023.
But the R&A announced it was dropping Muirfield from its 10-course Open venue roster after a vote in 2016 failed to permit women members, falling short of the two-thirds majority required to change the rules.
The British Open is the oldest of golf's four annual majors, dating back to 1860.
Women have played golf at Muirfield, east of Edinburgh, since 1904. They were admitted as guests but not as members.
Women's and men's single-sex golf clubs, although reducing in number, have been a feature of golf provision in Great Britain and Ireland and comply with equality legislation.
In 2014, St Andrews chose to admit female members for the first time after 260 years, with Royal St George's in Kent following suit in 2015.
Royal Troon, which hosted the 2016 British Open, voted in July last year to admit women members, in the wake of the R&A's decision over Muirfield.
Troon had previously considered itself a special case because it shares facilities with the Ladies Golf Club, Troon.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Well done, Muirfield -- decision to admit women members emphatic and the right one. Look forward to seeing you host the Open again in future."