DAVID CAMERON and other senior politicians have piled further pressure on the Scottish hosts of this year's Open Championship to abolish its men-only membership.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister had a great deal of sympathy with the view such men-only policies "look more to the past than they do to the future" as the tournament got under way yesterday at Muirfield, East Lothian.

His deputy Nick Clegg also waded into the row that has raged all week by attacking the club, which is officially known as The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, for its "old-fashioned and so anachronistic" rule.

Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said Muirfield and other Open venues, including Royal Troon in South Ayrshire and Royal St George's in Kent, should be barred from staging the major tournament.

Insisting Muirfield's policy was indefensible, the Women and Equalities Minister called on Royal and Ancient [R&A], golf's governing body outwith America, to act. She said: "The greatest tournament in golf should not be allowed to be staged at men-only clubs.

"If the R&A had a policy that said the Open Championship had to be staged at clubs that had both men and women members surely Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St George's would respond and accept women."

Ms Miller, who along with First Minister Alex Salmond is boycotting this year's Open, added: "Would they really want to be off the Open Championship rota, given the history they have with the event and the exposure it gives to their courses?"

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman branded the policy an "embarrassment" and called for it to be banned.

She said it was time Muirfield "dragged itself into the 21st century and let women in; it's time to ban men-only sport clubs".

However, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell defended the autonomy of clubs, stressing how the issue of membership was a matter for them.

The MP said the courses in his constituency at St Andrews were run by a trust, of which he is a member and were open to anyone regardless of gender as long as they had a booking and a handicap.

Noting how alongside the men-only R&A Golf Club at St Andrews there were two women-only clubs, Sir Menzies said: "Just as it is a matter for the R&A and the two women's golf clubs in St Andrews how they are constituted, then it should also be a matter for other clubs to determine these things themselves."

His views echoed those of golfing legend Gary Player, who earlier in the week had criticised Mr Salmond's boycott.

On Wednesday, Peter Dawson, R&A's chief executive, said it would look again at the policy but noted how it would take a "hard push" for it to change its mind.

He added: "For some people it's a way of life that they rather like.

"If, on a Saturday morning, a guy gets out of the marital bed and plays golf with his chums, that is not on any kind of par with racial discrimination, anti-Semitism or any of these things. It is just what people do."

Shona Malcolm, head of the Ladies' Golf Union, accepted men-only clubs were a "bit of an anachronism in this day and age" but stressed the sport was in an "evolutionary process".

A Muirfield spokesman said: "The club welcomes women to play either as visitors or guests year round with full use of the facilities as will be the case throughout the championship.

"As a club we conform to the Equality Act 2010 and any change in the membership would be for the members to decide.

"At this moment, there are no plans to change the current membership status."

l The BBC is not taking further action over a recent comment by Wimbledon commentator John Inverdale about Wimbledon women's winner Marion Bartoli. He said live on air she was "never going to be a looker". Inverdale is presenting coverage of the Open for Radio 5 Live.