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AIG Women’s Open: Women’s golf has ‘exploded’ since Muirfield exclusion vote, says Martin Slumbers

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

Those who voted to exclude women from the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 2016 caused the opposite effect to that intended, believes R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

Six years on, the AIG Women’s Open is being played on the HCEG’s treasured Muirfield. And women’s golf has “exploded”, believes Slumbers.

125% rise in prizemoney in just four years

Prizemoney for the AIG Women’s Open has risen by 125% in just four years as the R&A and lead sponsor announced a further hike ahead of this historic championship.

When AIG came on board as title sponsor in 2018 the total prizefund was just £2.7 million. This year’s championship sees it rise to just over £6m, up from the £4.8m paid out at Carnoustie last year.

This year’s champion will take home just over £900,000. The dollar equivalent breaks the one million mark for the first time. Anna Norqvist won £718,000 as champion at Carnoustie.

The R&A’s chief executive Martin Slumbers said that new rise was reflective of other championships raising their prizefunds. The USGA raised the US Women’s Open to a haul of £8.25 million ($10m) this year.

In just six years since the HCEG vote caused such outcry – it was reversed less than a year later – the whole picture has changed, said Slumbers.

‘That time will be viewed as pivotal’

“It was an important time for this sport and for the R&A,” he said. “We had been working very hard on a strategy for the R&A that had inclusivity very much as a part of it.

“We were in the beginning stages of merging with the Ladies Golf Union. Frankly, that merger transformed the R&A into where we are today.

“I think that when you think back over that six-year period since then, women’s golf has really exploded.

“It’s got a long way to go yet. But I do think that that time will be viewed as pivotal in that change.”

And it was important to say that this championship is not “penance” for Muirfield before the Open Championship returns, he said.

‘Two very independent decisions’

“Those are two very independent decisions,” he said. “We were thinking ‘where do we want to position the championship, relative to all the other work we do on promoting women’s golf?’

“How do we move (the championship) in a way that the rest of the world thinks it’s world class? Including the talent who are playing.

“You’ll recall we announced five venues (for the AIG Women’s Open) in one go; you’ve never seen us do that before. We were absolutely focused on how do we get the best venues that we can get that mean the most to golf, and stage the championship there.

“When you look at the history of our game over here, there is no more important golf course (than Muirfield) other than perhaps the Old Course in St Andrews if you want to achieve that purpose.

“You only have to walk around and listen to some of the athletes playing, and the players and their views. This is something special.”

The R&A have named their venues for the men’s Open up to 2025 – Hoylake next year, Troon in 2024 and Royal Portrush in 2025. Slumbers added that there was no revelation to be made for the 2026 venue at the present time.

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