The 2013 Open Championship press room was empty on Tuesday.
Tiger Woods walked up to the platform to take normal questions as the media gathered in their seats.
How are the playing conditions?
What plan do you have for this week?
How strong are you mentally?
Another hand went into the air as the moderator signaled that the press conference should end.
Do you believe there is a moral difference between a golf club that discriminates against people based on their race and a golf club that discriminates against people based on their sex?
Tiger replied, feeling a little uneasy:
“I don’t set the rules here; I’m not a member, therefore I won’t speak for the club,” someone said.
For the 16th time, the Open visited Muirfield, a club rich in tradition and history. A Ryder Cup was also held there in 1973.
But the membership was more significant than the course.
At Leith Links in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was established in 1744. They created the initial golf regulations and organized the first official tournament. The club also helped to fund the acquisition of the claret jug, the tournament’s trophy, together with Prestwick and St. Andrews in hosting The Open.
The club relocated from Leith Links to Musselburgh Golf Club in the neighborhood in 1836. But because of the crowding, they made the decision to relocate once more, choosing Muirfield, a course that was more to the east.
Legends would visit Muirfield over the years, praising it as one of the greatest and fairest. James Braid named his son Harry “Muirfield” Braid after the great trio that won The Open at Muirfield: Harry Vardon, Ted Ray, and James Braid. Players from other countries also traveled. At Muirfield, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Walter Hagen all won The Open. Nicklaus was so motivated that when he returned to the United States, he started building Muirfield Village, the golf course of his dreams.
Muirfield’s influence spread, but women members were conspicuously absent. a custom that is popular in Scotland.
“I grew up in a period when courses all throughout the United Kingdom forbade women from crossing the front patio in front of the men’s club. Karen Stupples, the 2004 AIG Women’s Open champion, remarked that women “couldn’t even drive up the driveway; they’d have to drop their husbands off at the front gate.”
Muirfield remained a male-only facility for the 2013 Open, 269 years after the club’s establishment. Scotland’s First Minister at the time, Alex Salmond, decided to completely boycott the event, which caused controversy.
“It was only that at that point Muirfield wasn’t willing to budge at all. Golf was being promoted as a sport for all people, but it was apart from that agenda. Internationally, it was portraying Scotland in a negative light, according to Salmond.
David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, joined the movement and added his name to the list of absentees.
In 2013, Phil Mickelson won the Open for the first time. While he had a happy ending, Muirfield’s single-sex membership policy was just just getting started.
Other clubs on The Open rota came under scrutiny as well, and they gradually changed their policies in response. Women were first permitted to join the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 2014, then Royal St. George’s in 2015, and Royal Troon in 2016.
The decision to allow women membership at Muirfield was put to a vote by the club’s members in 2017.
Henry Fairweather, the club’s captain, announced the outcome in front of the cameras outside the clubhouse.
The majority of club members voted to allow women membership, but the two-thirds majority needed to amend the regulations was not obtained, he claimed. Therefore, the club will continue to have a men-only policy.
Tom Abbott, a correspondent for the Golf Channel, remembered when he first heard the news.
“Really, that was a heartbreaking moment in the game.” Abbott declared. We went through a difficult time, and it was challenging to explain to a non-golfer why women weren’t Muirfield members.
The R&A, the body that governs golf, responded right away as the rest of the globe processed the vote’s announcement. Muirfield would no longer participate in The Open.
“We made our position very clear, that we were only going to take our championships to sites where there was a level of membership,” R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers said.
A second vote was called ten months later. This time, the plan was approved with the backing of 80.2% of the membership.
The first women were admitted in 2019, following a hurried invitation process. One of the first 12 ladies to join the group was Barbara Biggart.
“I was eager to come and play. We were all given a warm welcome as new members. I’ve participated in club meals and matches. Biggart remarked, “Everyone was made to feel quite welcome.
The club welcomed Lindsey Garden last year.
She stated, “I have two girls, so I believe it’s vital that you take them and just grasp it and go for it if you get the opportunity to do things.”
The R&A said in 2020 that Muirfield would once again host major golf championships. 144 women were invited to participate for the 2022 AIG Women’s Open, breaking a tradition of only hosting men pros for the first time in the club’s nearly 300-year existence.
Catriona Matthew of Scotland will take the opening tee shot. For the two-time Solheim Cup champion and 2009 Women’s Open champion, who grew up nearby in North Berwick and worked as a litter picker during the first Open she attended at Muirfield, the moment has gone full circle.
“I believe that the key is to look ahead rather than backward. We began visiting all The Open sites that you would have seen the men playing in over the previous 50–60 years throughout the course of the last 10–15 years, and I believe that elevated this competition. I believe it will benefit us, remarked Matthew.
At Muirfield, a new chapter of history is ready to be written.
And possibly the most important.