AIG Women’s Open 2022: The world’s best women in the once all-male enclave of golf
|Meeting point: Muirfield, Gullane, Scotland Dates: Thursday, August 3 – Sunday, August 7|
|Cover: Highlights on BBC iPlayer and BBC Two and follow updates on BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC Sport website and app|
Former Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew is living proof that for a woman who had played in previous majors at Muirfield, she would probably be picking up the litter or carrying a scoreboard.
But times have changed, even in the ultra-conservative world of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
This week this exclusive club, based on glorious East Lothian connections, hosts the world’s best female players as they compete in the AIG Women’s Open.
Until 2017, Muirfield was a men-only enclave of golf and the club’s initial failure to find the two-thirds majority required to change its constitution to allow female members had seen it knocked from the Open rota of men.
The loss of this position rallied minds and a second vote proved more progressive, allowing women to participate for the first time. Muirfield is still waiting to be awarded a 17th men’s Open, having last held one in 2013, but is back on the shortlist of courses.
And, although the traditional Claret Jug is not at stake, arguably Scotland’s fairest links test is to stage great golf again.
On Thursday morning, Scotland’s Matthew will hit the first tee in the final women’s championship of the year and no doubt the 2009 champion’s mind will wander to her first visits to Muirfield.
They volunteered to pick up litter and carry the scoreboard at the 1992 championship.
“I remember it was terrible weather one of the times I scored,” Matthew recalls. “I was actually lucky enough to be in John Cook’s team on the last day that [Sir Nick] Faldo won and John Cook, I think, lost that little place 17.”
Muirfield has hosted Opens since 1892 but, joining the likes of Royal Lytham, Carnoustie, St Andrews Old Course, Royal Birkdale and Turnberry, it is also now a venue for one of the biggest women’s tournaments in the world.
“I think it’s great to come here,” added Matthew. “Obviously in the last probably 10 years, we’ve started going to all of The Open venues that, over the last 50, 60 years, you’ve seen guys play.
“And I think it just elevates this league — and now we’re going to courses that people are used to seeing. I think it’s good for us.”
Matthew, a native of nearby North Berwick, added: “For me personally, obviously living and growing up on the road, I would never have imagined playing a Major so close to home.”
At Carnoustie last year, the 52-year-old watched with delight as Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist completed a sensational victory that helped fuel confidence in Matthew’s team for a successful Solheim Cup defense later that summer.
Now the Swede is enjoying the atmosphere before she tries to retain her title this week. “I’ve heard a lot about Muirfield,” Nordqvist, 35, said.
“I know the guys have played here over the years, so I think it’s an amazing opportunity for us to add Muirfield to our Open rotation.
“It’s so nice to see the pictures. I’ve been looking forward to this week for a long time.”
The top contenders are unanimous in their delight that Muirfield is hosting the tournament. “I was extremely excited to come out and play this event this year,” said Olympian Nellie Korda.
“I knew the history and the fact that we were going to be the first women’s tournament out here, too, it was pretty amazing.
“So I was more excited to actually be out here and go play this golf course and enjoy everything and the history of this place.”
American Korda has made significant progress since returning from a blood clot in her arm that cost her a place in the first-year Chevron in March. The 24-year-old then posted two major top 10s, including a share of eighth place at the recent Evian Championship.
That event was won by resurgent Canadian Brooke Henderson, another top star looking to highlight the historic importance of this week. “Playing this year really means a lot to all of us,” said the 24-year-old world number five.
“It’s just proof that the women’s game continues to grow, the purse sizes are increasing, we’re on network TV more and we’re playing in these better venues.
“It’s just a really fun time to be a part of women’s golf because it’s growing so much and we feel like we’re making a difference for future generations.”
And those youngsters who volunteer this week, getting perhaps the first opportunity to walk the hallowed turf of Muirfield, can rest assured that if they can achieve a high enough standard, nothing will stop them from competing for the biggest prizes there in the future.