There was a time when Laura Davies probably thought playing the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield was just a pipe dream.
That dream comes true today.
Davies tees off at 11:43am in the company of Women’s Amateur champion Jess Baker and Linn Grant of Sweden. Not too long ago, Davies would have struggled just to step on to the beautiful links turf owned by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.
It's hard to believe this week’s AIG Women’s Open is taking place at Muirfield considering the history of golf in these isles, and that it carries a purse of $7.3 million, a figure Davies and other top women golfers once thought was unattainable.
My, how far our game has come.
The HCEG required two votes to be dragged into the 21st century. It also needed the threat of exclusion from the Open Championship rota for members to realise its outdated, men-only policy was, well, seriously outdated.
It's only 12 years ago that Davies craved competing on the same links the men play for the Open Championship. During the 2010 Ricoh Women’s British Open, Davies said:
“I want us to go to Troon, Muirfield, to the same links the men play.”
When pressed about the possible hypocrisy of playing courses run by men, for men, and to hell with the other half of the population, Davis replied in her own inimical way.
“The men only thing doesn’t bother me. I’m not political. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about all that stuff. It’s all about the golf course. They are great courses so why wouldn’t you want to play them?”
Davies wasn’t alone in wanting the same challenge the men face. Fellow Solheim Cupper Mel Reid opined:
“I want to go where the men go. It’s all about the golf course and the challenge. It’s not about the politics. I think Muirfield, St George’s and Troon would be fantastic venues for us to play.”
Davies, Reid and the game’s best women saw the first part of their dream realised in 2020 when the Women’s Open was held at Royal Troon. Davies hit the Opening tee shot. Guess what, the world didn’t fall apart. The sun even came up the next day. Oh, and Sophia Popov provided one of the best fairy-tale stories in the modern game by coming from nowhere to win the championship.
Popov earned $675,00 for her first major victory from the $4,5 million prize fund. Nothing to be sneezed at, but almost paltry in comparison to the $1,095,000 this week’s winner will take home. It’s not quite on par with the $2.5 million Cameron Smith earned for winning the $14 million Open Championship, but the women are surely, rightfully, drawing ever closer to a day when both the game’s premier major championships offer equal prize funds?
“This year at the AIG Women’s Open, the players will be competing for $7.3 million, which is an increase of 26% on last year and also sees the total investment into the prize fund increase by just over $4 million or 125% since the R&A and AIG began our partnership in 2019,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said when announcing this year’s prize money.
Slumbers deserves huge credit for pushing the women’s game. He’s made getting young girls and women into a golf a major tenet of his role since he became chief executive in 2014. In 2016, he acted quickly to remove Muirfield from the Open rota when HCEG members initially voted against women joining the club. That decision was probably crucial in forcing the Honourable Company into a u-turn. A year later the club lived up to its name and did the honourable thing, and, presto, the world’s best links was immediately back on the Open Championship’s pool of courses.
Aside from a craving to play the game’s greatest links, Davies has spent her entire career dreaming of a day when the best women would play for similar prize funds to the top men. The game isn’t quite there yet, but it’s getting close. And that’s a cause for celebration.
#JustSaying: “The Open is one of the world’s great sporting events and going forward we will not stage the Championship at a venue that does not admit women as members,” Slumbers speaking in 2016 after the initial vote by HCEG members