With the eyes of the golfing world fixed on Royal Troon for the first women’s Major championship of the year, The R&A’s sustained commitment to female golf has been in further evidence.
The challenge of hosting the AIG Women’s Open safely behind closed doors during the COVID-19 global pandemic has earned generous praise, with 144 players representing 32 countries travelling to the famous Ayrshire links.
As the American Stacy Lewis, the 2013 Women’s Open champion, noted, “It's important for women's golf that we are playing, and we’re just so thankful that the Scottish government allowed us to come over and The R&A for hosting our championship. I think is a really big deal and it shows their commitment they are making to women's golf for the future.”
Further evidence of that commitment came on the eve of the tournament itself, with the news that five world-class venues will host the AIG Women’s Open going forward – Carnoustie in 2021, Muirfield in 2022, Walton Heath in 2023, St Andrews in 2024 and Royal Porthcawl in 2025.
Muirfield, Walton Heath and Royal Porthcawl can all look forward to hosting the event for the first time, again evidence of the female golf evolving.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “With our partners at AIG, we have a real ambition to grow and elevate the AIG Women's Open for the benefit of the world's leading golfers and so we are excited to confirm our intention to play the next five championships at these renowned courses.”
Peter Zaffino, President and Global Chief Operating Officer, AIG, added, “AIG is pleased to partner with The R&A to increase visibility and engagement in women’s professional golf by enhancing the global stature of the AIG Women’s Open.”
Providing further feelgood factor before Dame Laura Davies struck the opening tee shot, the announcement highlighted two key benefits – one for the players themselves and the other to help the growth of female golf overall, particularly in the UK.
Scotland’s leading player, Gemma Dryburgh, said, “I saw Muirfield on there and I was like, ‘wow’, that's a step forward. So, it will be amazing to play there, and Carnoustie next year as well. I’m looking forward to all the venues.”
The 2009 Women’s Open champion, Catriona Matthew, who lives in North Berwick and has seen neighbouring Muirfield host The Open on a number of occasions in her lifetime, added, “I think it’s great news.
“It just adds even more prestige to the event when you are coming to courses that have such a history with the men’s Open. It’s great to see the women getting the opportunity to play them. It’s also great we have three of the next five years in Scotland – that’s a huge boost to our young players.”
The excitement is obvious – and it is hoped that excitement will filter down to club level. The R&A launched the Women in Golf Charter in 2018 to increase the number of women and girls playing, working and volunteering in golf. A renewed campaign around the Charter, including resources to support organisations in attracting new audiences, is now imminent.
“I think I have been committed about women and girls’ golf since I arrived in St Andrews,” said Slumbers, who started his role in 2015. “You have heard me talk about people will join golf clubs when golf clubs are selling the product that people want to buy, and we've still got to do that, and we've still got to keep changing and we've still got to keep being modern and relevant.
“You know, I look at the UK, and I look at club golf, and it's about 15 per cent of club members who are female. In countries where the game is really growing, that number is in the 20s and 30s, and the high 30s in some cases. So, the opportunity to grow the audience is dramatic.”
Georgia Hall, the 2018 Women’s Open champion, is an R&A Women and Girls’ Golf ambassador and working hard to encourage women and girls into golf. “The list of future venues is incredible, what amazing golf courses,” said the 24-year-old. “I’ve actually seen some players have maybe decided to carry on playing, not retire, just to play these venues.”
Taking the AIG Women’s Open to Surrey venue Walton Heath in 2023, a signatory of the Charter in 2019, could help harness the potential for the sport in the south.
Slumbers continued, “You know, we need to find a combination of venues that not only show they have the right platform, but where we could attract interest in the women and girls’ game.
“To do that, we felt it was very important to have one of our biggest inland courses in London where there is growing women and girls’ golf and use the capital of the country to really galvanise that and be close to it. I think it complements those real top-quality open championship links courses.”
For Slumbers, the future is bright, “Overall, the venues announced are not only some of the best venues that we have to offer in this country, but they are clubs who really believe in helping the women's game.”
For more championship information, please visit www.aigwomensopen.com