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Jewish ex-BBC chief raps anti-Semitism in British golf

Lord Michael Grade claims Scotland’s Muirfield club, which bans women members, blackballed him over his religion

Former chairperson of the BBC, Michael Grade. (YouTube/Channel 4 News)
Former chairperson of the BBC, Michael Grade. (YouTube/Channel 4 News)

A former chairman of the BBC said that anti-Semitism abounds in British golf and that he was once banned from a controversial all-male club in Scotland for being Jewish.

Lord Michael Grade, 73, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that he was once invited to play at the Muirfield course in Scotland but the club abruptly refused his visit after apparently learning he was Jewish, The Telegraph reported on Tuesday.

Muirfield recently made headlines after its members voted to uphold a ban on women becoming members of the club.

“I steer clear of any clubs that have a reputation for being anti-Jewish,” Grade said.

The peer, who was director of the BBC from 2004 to 2006, recalled that he was invited by the late Sir William Brown, former chief of Scottish Television, to play golf at the course during the early 1980s.

“He rang me and said it was all fixed, and we had a tee time on a particular day,” Grade recalled. “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.”

Coombe Hill, near Kingston in Surrey, was known for its predominantly Jewish membership, Grade explained.

“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back a day later and said, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but as soon as I said Coombe Hill the invitation was withdrawn.'”

When Grade prodded Brown for an explanation he responded, “You know why, Michael.”

“Golf is full of that,” Grade said. “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.”

“Now I steer clear of any clubs that have a reputation for being anti-Jewish.”

A spokesman for Muirfield told the Telegraph that there was no discrimination against members over their religion and “it would be illegal to do so.”

The clubhouse at Muirfield golf course in Muirfield, Scotland, July 14, 2013. (AP/Scott Heppell)
The clubhouse at Muirfield golf course in Muirfield, Scotland, July 14, 2013. (AP/Scott Heppell)

Muirfield was stripped of its right to host the British Open after the Scottish club voted last Thursday against admitting female members — a vote that provoked sharp criticism from players and lawmakers.

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns Muirfield, announced its decision to retain the club’s male-only policy following a ballot of its members. A two-thirds majority was required for change. Out of 616 members who voted, 36 percent were against allowing women.

Within minutes, the Royal and Ancient, which runs the British Open, said Muirfield was off the list of 10 courses that can host golf’s oldest major championship.

“Going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said in a statement. “If the policy at the club should change, we would reconsider Muirfield as a venue for The Open in future.”

Muirfield has staged the British Open 16 times dating to 1892, most recently in 2013 when Phil Mickelson won. Royal Troon, which hosts this year’s tournament July 14-17, is the only other club on the rotation to still exclude women.

Britain’s Minister for Sport David Evennett said the decision by Muirfield’s members was “extremely disappointing” and “sends out completely the wrong message.”

“Scotland has women leaders in every walk of life,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Twitter. “It is 2016. This is simply indefensible.”

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