A key sponsor of the Open Championship said on Saturday that the all-male policy of three of the venues that host the world's oldest golf tournament needs to be addressed.
Giles Morgan, HSBC's global head of marketing and events, told reporters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, that it is an "uneasy position'' for his company to be sponsoring a tournament that plays at places that discriminate.
"I don't want to be in a situation where we are potentially having to justify our sponsorship,'' Morgan said at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
HSBC also is a title sponsor of the HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championship event played in China.
The Open came under scrutiny last summer when it was played at Muirfield, one of three clubs in the nine-venue rotation that does not have women members. The others are Royal St. George's and Royal Troon, which is scheduled to host the Open in 2016.
Peter Dawson, CEO of the R&A, said last summer that the organization would be looking at the issue. While he personally defended the practice of same-sex clubs, he acknowledged that it one day could hurt the championship, which provides funding to all of the other tournaments it runs as well as various golf programs, including women's initiatives.
The R&A is the business arm of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, a male-only institution that is based at the home of golf. In 2004, due to the scrutiny surrounding the all-male membership, the R&A was formed, although it is closely linked to the club.
Unlike Augusta National, which runs the Masters and hosts the tournament, the R&A moves the Open around to venues in England and Scotland. In 2012, Augusta National for the first time invited women to join the club.
Morgan said the R&A began contacting sponsors and those associated with the major championship in the last few months.
"The R&A are very clear that we are uneasy, that it is an uneasy position," Morgan said. "They have to work it through, and say they have been talking about working it through, but I think it does need to be worked through.
"There is no doubt at all that every human being has the right to join whatever club they want, in whatever focus it is, but when you are showcasing one of the world's greatest golf tournaments, it would be much more palatable if the events were played where there wasn't a sense of segregation."
Morgan said he would not be using the company's position as leverage or to "put a gun'' to anyone's head, he simply feels the issue needs to be resolved -- even though he acknowledged his company has received few customer complaints.
"The R&A are very aware of our position, that we would like this to get solved, so that we don't keep talking about it," Morgan said. "Because the Open is a wonderful, wonderful event, it is staged beautifully, our customers love it, the event itself is very male and female, so that's not the issue. But it's just sort of there and it's a niggle."
This year's Open will be played at Royal Liverpool in July.