Lionesses make progress but Women’s Open at Muirfield provides grim reminder

Posted By Foster | Section: Sport
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Football not only came home on Sunday, it also arrived in the 21st century.

The Lionesses exposed medieval attitudes and gripped the nation with their Euro 2022 triumph, sparking a fever which could go down as a watershed moment for women’s football.

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England’s women took centre-stage this summer

It marked new heights for the popularity of women’s football

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It marked new heights for the popularity of women’s football

Now it is golf’s turn. Not only is it staging a homecoming of its own, it also needs to find a place in the modern world.

This week, the Women’s Open heads to Muirfield, which claims to be the oldest verifiable organised golf club in the world, dating back to 1744.

And while the world has transformed a great deal in those 278 years, the gates of Muirfield have guarded the famous club from change.

The past is deeply important in golf, especially at Scotland’s most iconic links courses, where time is defied and the same poignant questions get asked across centuries. There is a beauty in that.

But for so long, only men were allowed to answer, and Muirfield is still stuck in the 18th century. In 2016, its members failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to open membership for women.

After the R&A decided to remove Muirfield from The Open rota, an emergency vote was called, and female membership was suddenly voted in.

Anna Nordqvist defends her title at a club she could not join six years ago

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Anna Nordqvist defends her title at a club she could not join six years ago


Still, 123 men stood against it. And it is easy to see why many believe those in favour voted reluctantly to regain The Open.

So it should be no surprise that outdated methods of thinking still prevail, when gestures change but hearts and minds stay the same.

Hannah Holden, an editior with the National Club Golfer website, was recently astonished to receive an invitation for a media day at Muirfield which told her to wear a jacket or long-sleeved dress.

She said: “It’s 2022 yet to go to a dinner at Muirfield Golf Club I have to cover my arm and shoulders? Why is the Women’s Open at a course that clearly wants to restrict women and only let them be members so they didn’t lose The Open?”

The decision to let Muirfield host this tournament was a controversial one

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The decision to let Muirfield host this tournament was a controversial one

The 87,000 packed into Wembley Stadium would have been inspired on numerous levels: any young player should take note of Keira Walsh’s vision and Ella Toone’s composure for the opening goal.

But most important was the atmosphere and the feeling, something many would have tasted for the first time. Young girls will want more of that – and that is what puts wheels in motion.

It is infectious, and for football, it finally felt accessible for everyone on Sunday.

Likewise, anyone who tunes into the Women’s Open on Thursday will find themselves bewildered by the quality of the players.

Nelly Korda is among the favourites going into this week

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Nelly Korda is among the favourites going into this week

Nelly Korda, the Olympic gold medallist, technically has the most perfect swing in all of golf. Like a Roger Federer backhand or a Lionel Messi free-kick, it is one of sport’s great sights.

But unlike Wembley on Sunday, the male-dominated world of Muirfield does not open its arms and invite you in unless it really has to. Korda would be the best player, male or female, at the club – and yet 123 members would not let her join. That creates a vibe.

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Muirfield is the symbol of an overly expensive sport where some people go to keep the world the way they like it, creating a weird safe haven and playground for bigots, making everyone else run a mile.

Golf has improved in terms of diversity, but it couldn’t exactly get worse, and besides the ongoing struggle for female inclusion, non-white people still make up a disproportionately small percentage of members nationwide.

Muirfield is one of the world’s most famous golf courses but only has 20 female members

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Muirfield is one of the world’s most famous golf courses but only has 20 female members

Anyone who loves the game will tell you that everyone should play, not least for the benefits to your physical and mental health – the improved self-esteem, self-worth, self-efficacy, the social connection. When you’re playing well, anyway.

It also reduces the risks of heart disease, diabetes, depression and dementia. Those are universally great things – and what’s more, children and pensioners alike can play.

But at places like Muirfield, it does not feel like that. From the outside, golf is seen as a snooty, costly and exclusive sport – because, well, clubs like this still exist.

A reluctance to change seaps through from the top down: while every other sport revolutionised, the PGA Tour sat still, insisted everything was fine the way it was, and allowed something sinister like LIV Golf to seize control of golf’s future.

Stenson’s true colours were clear to see when Greg Norman came calling

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Stenson’s true colours were clear to see when Greg Norman came calling

Now Saudi Arabia, where women still struggle for equal rights, fund a professional golf league which is supposedly designed to grow the game.

Ironically, many of the formatting ideas – 54 holes, no cuts, shotgun starts, team elements – actually make the game more approachable for those who will never sit down and watch a random 72-hole strokeplay event.

If only they were more than gimmicks designed to hide sportswashing and greed. As it happens, few people in golf are actually interested in ‘growing the game’. The Saudis are able to pretend because any form of innovation makes golf look progressive.

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A rare, genuine attempt to make golf more inclusive occurred at the Scandanavian Mixed, in which both male and female golfers compete against each other.

Grant recently topped a field of men and women

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Grant recently topped a field of men and women

Linn Grant obliterated the field by nine shots, beating its curator Henrik Stenson and becoming the first woman to win on the DP World Tour. Unfortunately, nobody really noticed because LIV Golf put its first event on top of it.

Stenson then sacked off the Ryder Cup captaincy to accept a fat bag of cash from the Saudis and join LIV Golf, showing how much he actually cares about equal opportunities.

The Women’s Open should be riding the wave of inclusion created by the Lionesses, capitalising on a moment which ought to inspire an influx of young girls into sport.

But as it descends on Muirfield, with LIV Golf dominating the agenda, it is little more than gesture politics to hide what really exists under the surface: a misogynistic world with a long way to go.

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