So important that women play at Muirfield for the last major – Georgia Hall

On 19 May 2016, Muirfield was removed from the Open Championship rota after a vote to admit female members narrowly failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required.

Just over six years on, the world’s best female players will contest their final major of the season, the AIG Women’s Open, at the East Lothian venue this week competing for a record US$7.3m (£6m) prize fund.

The winner on Sunday will receive $1.095m (£903,000), a landmark moment that looked impossible when 36 per cent of members of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG), which owns and operates Muirfield, voted against admitting female members.

Henry Fairweather

Club captain Henry Fairweather announces that women will be admitted as members of Muirfield after a new vote was held by The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Jane Barlow/PA)

The announcement of the result was followed minutes later by the R&A stating that Muirfield would not host the Open while the policy remained in place, a reaction which no doubt played a large part in the outcome of a second vote in March 2017, which passed by 498 votes to 123.

“I think 2016 was an important time for this sport and for the R&A,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said at a pre-tournament press conference at Muirfield.

“I had only been with the organization for a few months. We had worked very hard on a strategy for the R&A that had inclusion very much as part of it. We were at the beginning of the merger with the Ladies Golf Union and, frankly, that merger transformed the R&A into where we are today.

“I think when you think back to that six-year period since then, women’s golf has really exploded and it still has a long way to go. But I think that time will be seen as pivotal in that change.

Martin Slumbers

R&A CEO Martin Slumbers during an interview on practice day four of The Open at the Old Course, St Andrews (Jane Barlow/PA)

“The R&A had no responsibility for this championship until 2016 and in fact we got full control of it two years ago. When I think about where we want to place the championship, I’ve often talked about a pyramid, with the championship at the top.

“Part of it is that major sports need big crowds. But major sports also need big venues. We were certainly focused on how we can get the best venues we can get that mean the most to golf, and host the championship there.

“And for those of us who have been privileged to have played here before, this is a very special golf course with a very special history, and a course that generally gives rise to the very best player winning it.

“So this was about platform. It’s all about height. I think the fact that quite a few stories are being written about it means we have the right place.”

England’s Georgia Hall is aiming for her second major title following her victory at Royal Lytham in 2018, having finished second behind Anna Nordqvist at Carnoustie last year.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Hall said of Muirfield. “I have heard very good things about the course and it is very good. I think everyone wants to win here, especially because it’s the first women’s professional event we’re playing in.

“I think it is so important that the women are here this week. It leaves such a strong mark on women’s golf and AIG and the R&A have done a fantastic job together to bring the championship here.

“I think the women’s game is definitely in the best position it’s ever been in and I’m really happy to be in the middle of my career and doing that.”

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