The first four times Karen Stupples played the Old Course at St. Andrews, she used the clubhouse at St. Rule, situated on the right side of the 18th green. The club was established in 1896 primarily as a place for ladies to enjoy a cup of tea and share newspapers near the links.
It wasn’t until the Old Course first hosted a women’s major in 2007 that Britain’s Stupples, and every other player in the historic field, was allowed into the iconic R&A clubhouse behind the first tee. That’s the week that St. Andrews transformed for Stupples from just another links course to a cornerstone of golf history.
Because now, the best female players in the world were a part of that history, and that inclusion changed everything.
“It really kind of struck home that as women pros, the respect we were being given,” said Stupples, “having our Open on that great golf course where history has been made for centuries. It was really special. You turned a corner.”
The feeling returned this week when the best female players in the game gathered for the first time at Royal Troon, a staple of the men’s British Open rota. But before the first iron was struck at the famed Postage Stamp on Thursday, the R&A announced another first: Muirfield will host the AIG Women’s British Open in 2022.
It was only last year that Muirfield invited its first women members in 275 years. Now the club’s membership will complete the 180-degree change of heart by crowning a female major champion in two short years. She will join a list of 16 men who have won an Open at Muirfield, including the likes of Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
“Muirfield is possibly one of the purest tests of golf in the world,” said Catriona Matthew, a former Women’s British Open winner who lives four miles down the road at North Berwick.
The R&A’s lineup for the women in the next five years speaks volumes about the organization’s commitment to elevating the women’s game: Carnoustie (2021), Muirfield (2022), Walton Heath (2023), St. Andrews (2024) and Royal Porthcawl (2025).
“This is what we need,” said veteran pro Angela Stanford. “People turn on the TV to watch the course. Now we are on them!”
Last year the R&A announced a near 40 percent increase in the Women’s British Open purse, from $1.25 million to $4.5 million. The 2019 edition was AIG’s first year as title sponsor.
It’s still miles away from the parity R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers spoke of – last year’s purse at the men’s British Open was $10.75 million – but a significant improvement. The R&A merged with the Ladies Golf Union in 2017, taking over all championships.
The men’s British Open wasn’t held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the R&A and AIG remained committed to staging the women’s championship one month later. Slumbers said he personally felt a “deep responsibility” to make it happen.
“There’s a rolling snowball developing,” said Slumbers, “and I would look to all corporates to help get this behind women’s sport and grow that prize money. We’re committed, absolutely committed to doing that, but in a sustainable way.”
There aren’t any household names in women’s golf in America right now, not with Michelle Wie out on maternity leave. No Serena Williams or Nancy Lopez.
That’s why these storied venues are so important to the game. Let the courses bring in new fans.
To increase the interest among young girls, Slumbers said they’ve committed to staging the AIG around London at least once every five years. The Women’s British won’t be solely held on links courses like the men’s championship.
“We want to use this championship, not just for the players to show us, as I said many times, to show us how good they are,” said Slumbers, “but to get more and more interest in women and girls to play.”
When a young girl can watch the men compete at St. Andrews in 2022 and look on the calendar to see that the women will be there two years later, it lights a spark.
That goes for 50-year-old pros, too.
“Will be very special to have a major five minutes from my home,” said Matthew of Muirfield. “With that and St. Andrews now on the schedule, I may need to hang around a bit longer.”