Muirfield to host its first Women’s Open in ‘huge statement’ for the game
Next five venues announced as R&A elevates event’s profile Strong winds may delay play as back-up plan considered
The forecast is so windy here for the first two rounds that the AIG Women’s Open could be in danger of being whipped away, somewhere over a rainbow.
But still the worst intentions of the weather gods could not dampen the enthusiasm on a tournament eve during which the R&A revealed that the event would be visiting some fantastical venues in the forthcoming years.
In 2016, when the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers voted against allowing female members, who would have thought that less than half a decade later, Muirfield would not only boast representatives of the “other gender” in its 276-year-old ranks, but would have agreed to stage Britain’s female major?
Indeed, the notion stretched credulity so far that when The Daily Telegraph broke the story in April 2019, the exclusive was widely ridiculed. At that stage, the club had not even admitted its first female member (that did not happen until July last year) and the dinosaur image endured.
Yet now it has been confirmed: the AIG Women’s Open will be at Muirfield in 2022 – and furthermore Martin Slumbers, the R & A chief executive, has declared that the club’s denizens are “absolutely ecstatic” at the prospect and that the R&A “couldn’t have a more enthusiastic partner”.
“It’s a huge statement of the Honourable
Company’s commitment to the women’s game,” Slumbers said. “The game has changed a lot in the past five years. There is a lot more discussion and energy and it is more modern and relevant to today’s society.”
Slumbers announced the next five venues – as he detailed the mission of the R&A and its ambitious American sponsor to meet their “goal of elevating this championship” by “showcasing these brilliant players on some of the greatest golf courses we have” – but it was inevitable, considering the recent past, that Muirfield would stand out, despite the merits of Carnoustie (2021), Walton Heath (2023), St Andrews (2024) and Royal Porthcawl (the Welsh course being moved back four years to 2025).
Yet it should be remembered that Royal Troon, this year’s host, did not itself invite females to join until 2016 and that the next four days will be historic in themselves. Particularly in the light of the pandemic.
Slumbers was determined that this $4.5 million (£3.4 million) showpiece should go ahead, regardless of the cancellation of last month’s Open Championship, which was due to be staged at Royal St George’s in Sandwich.
In fact, with the R&A taking full control of running this event for the first time, there was even more of a will to ensure that Troon went ahead than perhaps was the case with Royal St George’s.
In short, the women’s side of the sport – with the ridiculous gap in exposure and finance that exists between the male and female games – needs this week.
“I have felt this sort of deep responsibility to stage this,” Slumbers said. “I have been committed about women’s and girls’ golf since I arrived in St Andrews [as Peter Dawson’s replacement in 2015]. But if I’m being really honest, it was probably only a month or so ago that we were really comfortable that we could get this on.
“So we are delighted to give women’s golf a real boost by playing this year’s first major over these world famous links, albeit behind closed doors. There’s a wonderful sense of excitement and I’m glad observers feel there is something special about holding it this week, because we certainly do.”
What could possibly go wrong? Well, apart from this being seaside golf and the meteorologists predicting wind speeds of 20mph gusting up to 45mph today and tomorrow. “Carnage” is the word, and Slumbers all but said as much when writing to the competitors. Delays seem almost guaranteed, but Slumbers has told the field that the tournament will definitely finish on Sunday and if that means the number of players qualifying for the cut being reduced, or even the event being decided over 54 holes, then so be it.
“The Covid-19 restrictions around this event mean that we do not have an option to go to Monday,” Slumbers said. “We may be required to play 36 holes on Sunday and I have also made it clear that pace of play is important.”
So button up and hurry up, and survive until what looks a comparatively benign weekend to make the spectacle as compelling as possible. The cast list is definitely up to that.
Practice round: England’s Georgia Hall at Royal Troon yesterday. Muirfield is to host the Women’s Open in 2022, as revealed by
The Telegraph in April last year (below)
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