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 Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Golf - By James Cor­ri­gan Golf Cor­re­spon­dent

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)

Four of the top-ranked Kore­ans have cho­sen to re­main at home – with world No1 Jin Young Ko and No3 Sung Hyun Park the most no­table ab­sen­tees – but in Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda and Lexi Thomp

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