The AIG Women’s Open is headed to Carnoustie, St Andrews and even Muirfield – the venue once most identified with the exclusion of women’s participation in golf – as the R&A look to increase the profile of the major championship.
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which admitted its first female members only a year ago, is “absolutely ecstatic” to be hosting the Women’s Open in 2022, said R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers on the eve of this year’s championship at Royal Troon as he announced the next five venues for the championship.
The championship will return next year to Carnoustie for the first time since 2011, when Taiwan’s Yani Tseng won a second successive title. It will be played on the Old Course at St Andrews for the third time in 2024, following the successful visits in 2007 and 2013.
The Women’s Open will also be played for the first time at Walton Heath in Surrey in 2023, and at Royal Porthcawl in South Wales in 2015.
Slumbers said that the R&A “couldn’t have a more enthusiastic partner” than the Honourable Company in being a championship host.
“The game of golf has changed quite a lot in the last five years,” he said. “I think there is a lot more discussion and energy and commitment about the game, also more modern and relevant to today’s society.
“I think it will be a fantastic place for the women golfers to go and play. I’m pretty exciting already and I think Muirfield will really embrace it and give us a fantastic championship.”
Members of the Honourable Company voted in 2016 to retain their 250-year policy of not admitting women as members, a decision that prompted the R&A to remove Muirfield from the pool of venues for the men’s Open Championship, despite it hosting 16 previous championships.
The club reversed that contentious vote less than a year later and admitted its first women as members last year. The course has since returned to the pool of Open venues but as yet has not been confirmed for its 17th hosting of The Open.
“It’s a huge statement (by the club) of their commitment to the game and their commitment to the women’s game,” continued Slumbers. “But the whole five years is intended to be a huge statement of intent about how we want to provide the platform for the best women golfers to play on some of the best golf courses that we can offer in this country.
“It’s a five-year run that really should whet the appetite of every great golf lover.”
Meanwhile Slumbers has warned players in this year’s championship – played without spectators under strict distancing rules to combat Covid-19 infection – play will not go into Monday despite severe winds being predicted for the first two days and delays being likely.
He also expects the pace of play regulations to be observed, and has written to all players in the field.
“We are in for two really rough days of weather, we are forecasting 20-mile-an-hour wind steady, but gusting up to 45 miles an hour on a really tough links golf course,” he said.
“We are doing our bit. We are easing the golf course as much as we can to make it as playable, because we want a spectacle. I want to see the players play.
“The restrictions around this event mean that we do not have an option to go to Monday, so we will finish on Sunday. We may be required to play 36 holes on Sunday and we are going to see how the weather goes, but I have also made it clear that pace of play is important, and we need to do it together. We will do our bit and we expect and ask the players to do their bit.”
The first seven holes of Troon’s “out-and-in” layout are widely regarded as being the easiest part of the course but will be dead into forecast wind, but the set-up would be adjusted accordingly, he added.
Slumbers added that it was only a month ago that they felt assured the Women’s Open would go ahead, and there were no regrets at the decision to cancel the The Open itself at Royal St George’s in July – but they will consider playing behind closed doors in 2021 if the situation has not improved.
“I think we’re all learning, I think we’ve all learnt an awful lot in the last few months,” he said. “I have absolutely no regrets over the decision we made. It was not possible for us to do it, it was the wrong thing to do on the timing.
“One hopes that the world is going to be in a better place come next season, but if it’s not, we will absolutely assess behind closed doors Open Championship as one of the options come July 2021.”