Lady Golfer: Mickey Walker looks ahead to the Women's Open
THE Ricoh Women’s British Open is returning to St Andrews. When it was played there in 2007 for the first time, I have never seen or heard so many players talk so excitedly about a venue – ever!
There wasn’t a single player, caddy or person visiting for the championship who didn’t go and stand on the bridge over the Swilcan Burn on the 18th hole and have their picture taken.
The players were allowed in the clubhouse, locker rooms and, as is normally the case, given temporary use of all the facilities at the Royal and Ancient clubhouse.
I had a clubhouse pass that week, and can still remember the feeling of awe and reverence that I encountered when I first set foot inside the clubhouse and locker room, where the large but simple lockers had the names of past champions on them. There is no more iconic golf course and club in the world than St Andrews.
It is synonymous with golf, the rules and the very beginnings of the great game of golf. This year there will be many special celebrations as St Andrews turns 600 years old. A venue doesn’t get any more special than that.
The wonderful thing about St Andrews is that anyone – whether the wealthiest or poorest golfer in the world – can stand on the Swilcan Bridge and stand where the world’s greatest golfers have done so before them. That certainly isn’t the case at most of the world’s leading golf venues.
The course itself is unique with its 12 double greens and shared fairways. Like a lot of players, Lee Westwood seriously disliked the course for the first half dozen or so tournaments he played at St Andrews, but thereafter started to appreciate its challenges and design. As well as the course, the town of St Andrews is also unique.
It is well known as a university town whose alumni include the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A great mix of golfers from all over the world as well as university students and historians are drawn there and form an eclectic mix of visitors. For a large town it has a village feel and, during championships, you can’t walk a hundred yards without bumping into players, caddies and people who are involved with the event.
In 2007, it was testament to the standing which women’s golf at the highest level had reached that the R&A were prepared to host one of the – then – four Major women’s championships.
Yes, it is still very much a male-only members’ club, but given a poll among the players it would be way ahead of any other venue that they would like to play a Major championship at.
The only other course that would probably come close would be Augusta National in Georgia. Outside of America, it would definitely be at the very top.
I can’t wait to see the world’s top women take the Old Course on again and finish up with a worthy winner
Why this is a week which can change sexist attitudes
Before the Women’s British Open became a Major in 2001, it was still one of the biggest championships in women’s golf. For seven consecutive years between 1990 and 1996 the event was played exclusively at Woburn. Although Woburn is a great venue and one of my favourite places to play golf, to my mind the stand-out women’s golf championship deserved something better.
From 1998 the then sponsor – Weetabix, decided to move the championship around to some of the best and most famous links courses throughout the UK, venues synonymous with the men’s Open such as Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Birkdale, Turnberry, Carnoustie and ultimately St Andrews. Come rain or shine, the women have proved that they can cope with the extremes that our famous links courses tend to provide, and yes, just like the men, their scoring is directly
affected by the weather.
No-one who attended or watched last year’s championship at Hoylake in some of the most extreme conditions ever witnessed could help but be impressed with the winner, Jiyai Shin, and how she played.
The media need good stories and controversy to sell their publications. Golf is no stranger to hitting the headlines and sometimes for the wrong reasons. Is it right that we should be playing at golf clubs which openly don’t recognise that women golfers exist on a daily basis? Almost certainly not, but I know from personal experience that in time things will change.
Our long history as a golfing nation has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage to my mind is that for centuries golf has been run by men, for men, and they nowadays still outnumber women by about eight to one. This certainly isn’t the case in younger golfing nations throughout mainland Europe.
Most golf clubs of a certain age are probably still run in a very chauvinistic manner and will be the last to change. That doesn’t mean when the opportunity to play some of the best golf courses which are still run on that basis presents itself we shouldn’t accept the offer. In fact, I believe that by doing so, we will gradually work away at the divisions and eventually be accepted in such clubs.
One thing is for sure, and that is that no-one would pass up the opportunity to play at St Andrews.
I can’t wait to see the world’s top women take the Old Course on again and finish up with a worthy winner.
Read Madeleine Winnett’s thoughts on St Andrews HERE.
For more from our columnists click HERE.
• Lady Golfer’s consulting editor captained Europe in the first four Solheim Cups. She regularly appears on Sky Sports as an expert summariser