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  • Alistair Tait

World’s best women deserve centre stage

Royal Troon will stage a women’s major championship next week for the first time in the same year Royal St George’s staged its first women’s professional tournament.

Can we dare utter that Bob Dylan line?

“The times they are a changing.”

Oh, let’s hope so.

If I’d written that opening line as little as, say, seven years ago, it would have been to start a fictional piece.

Remember seven years ago when the Open Championship was staged at Muirfield? BBC presenter Hazel Irvine gave then R&A chief executive Peter Dawson a grilling over the choice of Muirfield as the 2013 Open venue given the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ all-male policy.

Dawson did his best, but struggled to defend the indefensible. In fairness, he wasn’t the one responsible for sexist attitudes emanating from the Honourable Company, Royal St George's, Royal Troon and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, of which he was secretary. He was just the front man. He was actually working behind the scenes to change the status quo.

That Open Championship and the pressure placed on the governing body was a tipping point. Former HSBC head of Marketing Giles Morgan tipped the scales when he went public with the bank’s unhappiness that Open Championship venues were still stuck in the pre-suffragette era. Considering the bank was a patron of the Open Championship, his views carried a lot of weight.

If not for Morgan speaking out, we might still be waiting for our top clubs to recognise the other half of the population. Morgan deserves a knighthood for helping break down a barrier that should have crumbled sometime early last century.

Hence the reason for St George’s, the Royal & Ancient, Royal Troon and the Honourable Company finally welcoming women members, and going a step further by staging women's tournaments. (A Women’s Open at Muirfield surely can’t be far away?)

Women’s golf is currently receiving a lot of coverage despite coronavirus wrecking our world. Justin and Kate Rose’s decision to launch the Rose Ladies Series brought a lot of welcome attention to the women’s game. Kate Rose’s plea to other top male stars to invest in women’s golf has hopefully not fallen on deaf ears.

We’ve now have two weeks to focus on women’s golf starting with this week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club before Troon welcomes the world’s best. European Solheim Cup captain and 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion Catriona Matthew speaks for many when she says:

“I think people are just excited and it gives them something to watch on the TV and to have women's golf, women's sport up there will be good. I'm really looking forward to these next two weeks.”

Georgia Hall, the 2018 Ricoh Women’s Open winner, agrees.

"I think it's a great opportunity this week and next week at the Women's Open to showcase how good we are.”

Anyone who was at Woburn Golf Club last year to watch Hinako Shibuno lift the AIG Women’s British Open trophy she’ll defend at Royal Troon couldn’t help but be impressed with the standard of play.

Shibuno took the title over the Marquess Course with an 18-under-par total. Unlike 2016, when Ariya Jutanugarn won at Woburn, no one could complain the world’s best women had been mollycoddled. The now defunct Ladies Golf Union set up the Marquess Course in 2016. The LGU reduced the layout to just 6,448 yards, making it the shortest women’s major course of 2016, 83 yards shorter than the LPGA average. It was a travesty.

The world’s best were hitting driver and wedge to many of the tougher holes on the Marquess course. Jutanugarn was hitting 2-iron/wedge. Not last year.

Kudos to the R&A for recognising the talents of the world’s top women. The governing body added 308 yards to the Marquess Course, taking the layout to 6,756 yards, a proper test for the world's best.

Royal Troon will be a proper challenge, too. It’ll be exciting to see the world’s best take it on. The bonus is this week’s Scottish Open as an appetiser.

Matthew and Hall aren’t the only ones looking forward to the next two weeks.

#JustSaying: “Some people say the suffragettes have acted very unwisely in destroying golf greens because this has made golfers very angry, yet what is there to fear from their anger? What have golfers ever done for the Suffragette Cause, and what will they ever do if they are left in peace to play their game?” The Suffragette Magazine 1913

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the R&A

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