It was a quiet Tuesday within the press room on the 2013 Open Championship.
Reporters gathered of their seats as Tiger Woods made his approach to the rostrum to reply routine questions.
“How are course situations?”
“What’s your technique this week?”
“How’s your psychological toughness?”
Because the moderator motioned for the press convention to wrap up, one other hand shot into the air.
“Tiger, do you’re feeling morally there’s a distinction between a golf membership that excludes individuals on the premise of their intercourse from a golf membership that excludes individuals on the premise of their race?”
Barely uncomfortable, Tiger responded:
“I don’t make the insurance policies right here, I’m not a member and so I’m not going to talk for the membership.”
A take a look at Muirfield’s lengthy, arduous journey to inclusivity
The Open had come to Muirfield, a membership steeped in custom and historical past, for the 16th time. The location had additionally hosted a Ryder Cup in 1973.
However extra necessary than the course, was the membership.
In 1744, the Honourable Firm of Edinburgh Golfers was based at Leith Hyperlinks in Edinburgh, Scotland. The members established golf’s authentic guidelines and hosted the sport’s first formal competitors. The membership additionally joined Prestwick and St Andrews in internet hosting The Open and contributed towards the acquisition of the match trophy, the claret jug.
In 1836, the membership moved from Leith Hyperlinks to a close-by golf course referred to as Musselburgh. Nevertheless, as a result of overcrowding, they determined to maneuver once more, this time settling at a course additional east – Muirfield.
Through the years, legends would make their approach to Muirfield, lauding it as one of many fairest and best. The good triumvirate of Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and James Braid all received The Open at Muirfield, and Braid even named his son Harry “Muirfield” Braid. Worldwide gamers made the journey as effectively. Walter Hagen, Gary Participant and Jack Nicklaus additionally received The Open at Muirfield. Nicklaus was so impressed, upon returning to the U.S. he started building on his dream golf course in Ohio, aptly naming it Muirfield Village.
Nevertheless, as Muirfield’s affect grew, one presence remained absent: ladies members. A practice not unusual in Scotland.
“I grew up in a time when there have been programs throughout the U.Ok. that would not let ladies stroll throughout the entrance patio in entrance of the lads’s lounge. Girls could not even drive up the driveway, they’d need to drop their husbands off on the entrance gate,” stated 2004 AIG Girls’s Open champion Karen Stupples.
On the 2013 Open, 269 years after the membership’s founding, Muirfield remained male-only. The controversy made headlines as Scotland’s First Minister on the time, Alex Salmond, determined to boycott the occasion fully.
“It was simply the truth that Muirfield wasn’t ready to bend in any respect at that stage. We have been attempting to encourage golf as a sport for everybody, and it was standing in isolation to that coverage. It was giving the fallacious picture for Scotland internationally,” stated Salmond.
The Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, joined the trigger as effectively and added his title to the record of non-attendees.
A glance again at legendary ‘firsts’ at iconic Muirfield forward of Girls’s Open
Phil Mickelson received his first and solely Open title in ‘13. Whereas he acquired his storybook ending, the story of Muirfield’s single-sex membership coverage was simply starting.
Different golf equipment on The Open rota have been additionally scrutinized, and ultimately responded by altering their methods. In 2014, the Royal and Historic Golf Membership of St. Andrews voted to permit ladies members, adopted by Royal St. George’s in 2015 and Royal Troon in 2016.
In 2017, Muirfield’s membership took a vote to find out if the membership would admit ladies.
The membership’s captain, Henry Fairweather, delivered the results of the vote in entrance of cameras exterior the clubhouse.
“A majority of members voted for girls as members of the membership however the two-thirds majority that we require for a change within the guidelines was not met,” he stated. “The membership due to this fact will retain its men-only coverage.”
Golf Channel reporter Tom Abbott recalled the second he heard the information.
“It was a tragic second within the sport, actually.” Abbott stated. “We went via a darkish interval and it was onerous to clarify to somebody who does not play golf, why ladies weren’t members at Muirfield.”
Because the world digested the information of the vote, golf’s governing physique, the R&A, instantly responded. Muirfield could be faraway from The Open rota.
On cusp of Muirfield’s historic debut, this Girls’s Open feels larger than ever
R&A chief govt Martin Slumbers defined, “we made our place very clear, that we have been solely going take our championships to venues the place there was a top quality of membership.”
Ten months later a second vote was referred to as. This time, 80.2% of the membership supported the proposal, sufficient for it to move.
In 2019, after an accelerated invitation course of, the primary ladies have been admitted. Barbara Biggart was one of many first 12 ladies to affix the membership.
“I could not wait to return and play. We have been all welcomed very a lot as members. I have been half on the membership dinners and membership matches. We have been all made to really feel very welcome,” stated Biggart.
Lindsey Backyard joined the membership final yr.
“I’ve acquired two daughters, so I feel it is necessary that should you get the chance to do issues, you’re taking them and simply seize it and go for it,” she stated.
In 2020, the R&A made an announcement: Muirfield would return to internet hosting main championship golf. For the primary time within the membership’s almost 300-year historical past, the custom of solely internet hosting males professionals could be damaged as 144 ladies have been invited to compete for the 2022 AIG Girls’s Open.
Scotland’s Catriona Matthew will hit the primary tee shot. A second that has come full circle for the two-time profitable Solheim Cup captain and 2009 Girls’s Open champion, who grew up down the street in North Berwick and served as a litter picker in the course of the first Open she skilled at Muirfield.
“I feel you simply need to look ahead relatively than look backwards. During the last most likely 10 years, we began going to all The Open venues that over the past 50-60 years you have seen the lads taking part in in, and I feel that simply elevates this championship. I feel it is good for us,” stated Matthew.
One other chapter of historical past able to be written at Muirfield.
And maybe probably the most vital.