The future of women’s golf has never been brighter, but there is still a lot to be done

In the early morning twilight, Catriona Matthew’s T-shirt shot at the start of the AIG Women’s Open marked a new dawn for Muirfield.

the Scotsman, two-time Solheim Cup winner who won the Open in 2009, grew up in North Berwick, which is about 18 holes from where the likes of Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Gambler, Tom Watson, Walter Hagen played and Harry Vardon were voted golf champions of the year.

Indeed, Matthew has been to several of those 16 tournaments, volunteering as a scavenger and, more recently, scorer. However, until 2017, despite the LET Player of the Year title, a 52-year-old woman could not become a member.

The path to today’s symbolic hosting was, like the land of links, long, thorny, and bumpy. For some 275 years, the not-so-honorable company of Edinburgh golfers banned female membership, essentially costing what is an undeniably beautiful and historic golf course its place on the open timetable.

The membership, once the subject of a Golf Digest article titled “The Roughest Club in the World”, may have been meant to be thick-skinned.

A level of condemnation came after their prehistoric stance was maintained in 2016, as a vote by members who failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to initiate change caused multiple pauses.

So, after criticism from everyone and everyone, including Nicola Sturgeon, when the vote was repeated a year later, it passed – not unanimously, but by enough margin to set in motion a sequence of events that led to this week’s top players gathering. peace.

In what has already been a seismic summer for women’s sports, headlined by England’s victory in the final European Women’s Championship over Germany, which drew more than 17 million British spectators, the importance of what happens on the East Lothian lines over the next four days is not must be exaggerated. lost to someone.

The fact that the club, named one of the headlines this week as “the last bastion of fanaticism” in golf, is the venue for this tournament was unimaginable until recently. In truth, the growth of interest in women’s games could not have been predicted.

This was facilitated by the commitment of some well-known sponsors for a more equitable distribution of budgets. This, in turn, has led to bigger wallets, bigger tournaments being played more and more often on some of the most famous playing fields, and the success of co-sanctioned tournaments has changed the sport.

Many converts have found a version of the game free of some of the PGA Tour’s most controversial elements.

First, even though the distance is still great, these are not bomb and gouge levels that make some well-known old fields look outdated, resulting in a more creative choice of shots.

And while the five major tournaments have been dominated by a generation of South Korean golfers inspired by the exploits of Park Se-ri in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the sport has a true international element that features three individual golfers, in including Leona Maguire from Ireland. , became the first from their country to present an LPGA Tour title in the past two years.

Perhaps most importantly in the current climate – and this may only be a temporary rescue considering how much louder money speaks – is that there is currently no LIV or equivalent.

Yes, for those who are tired of already astronomically well-paid personalities twirling like pretzels to explain their absolutely in no way financially motivated reasons for engaging in outright Saudi sports laundering, the women’s game remains a sphere blissfully free from Greg Norman.

All this added up to create a sense of real momentum, a change of direction that will be symbolized on Sunday by a new champion being crowned on a circuit where, until recently, the winner was not allowed to enter the club.

But as Stephanie Meadow and Maguire prepare to play in Scotland ahead of their appearances at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Gulgorm and Masserene next week, there is one area where they are still lagging behind.

While even Muirfield has taken its long overdue place in the 21st century, there is still a discrepancy in how women’s games are covered.

While more and more speakers and broadcast slots belatedly reflect the explosion of interest in women’s football, their absence when it comes to golf remains conspicuous.

Too often only a footnote remains.

Tennis has had its own fight for equality, be it in terms of prize money or scheduling, but it would still be incomprehensible to see Serena Williams’ exploits relegated to “in the meantime” at the end of the score in a less prestigious men’s tournament. event.

This week at Muirfield represents a giant step for women’s sports. However, in one key aspect it seems that he is still fighting for par.