f there can be no question that the R&A’s decision to postpone this year’s men’s Open Championship was the correct one, the governing body’s willingness to stage its equivalent for women deserves higher praise. This weekend, Royal Troon will host arguably Britain’s biggest golf event of 2020 and women’s sport in general. A total of 32 countries are represented in the Women’s Open, which has a $4.5m (£3.4m) prize fund.
“Those were pretty dark times, weren’t they, in late March, early April,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive. “There were bigger issues for the world to worry about and still are bigger issues to worry about. I think at that time we were struggling to see how any golf was to go to take place, certainly at the top level. Right through it we wanted to take as much time as we possibly could on the women’s event. We wanted to see where everything developed, and all along, I have felt this sort of deep responsibility to stage this.
���I have been committed about women’s and girls’ golf since I arrived in St Andrews. Taking control of this event made me more determined to wait as long as we possibly could and see how the world evolved. When I sit here today on the eve of it teeing off, albeit with some pretty dreadful weather forecast for the next couple of days, it was a great decision. I think there’s a wonderful sense of excitement.”
The famous Ayrshire links will be without spectators. Players, caddies and officials are operating in a biosecure bubble. These feel like small concessions. Slumbers added: “We have spent a large part of the last three months in dialogue, not just with [tournament sponsor] AIG and making sure that they were committed to it, but with the Scottish government who have been incredibly supportive and suitably challenging in making sure we got an environment that was safe for the players.
“But if I’m really honest, it was probably only a month or so ago that we were really comfortable that we could get this away. It has been an enormous effort by an enormous number of people, and our thanks go to not just our partners but the government both in Westminster and Scotland who have been tireless in helping us try and make a statement of putting this championship on.”
Slumbers acknowledged the week’s danger arrives from the elements. The forecast of severe winds gusting up to 45mph has forced Slumbers to raise the possibility of 36 holes being played on Sunday. A Monday finish has been ruled out on practical grounds. In a note to players, Slumbers also stated: “We are aiming to maintain the cut after the second round at 65 players and those tied for 65th place, but we may need to reduce the size of field further, especially if we lose a significant amount of playing time on Thursday/Friday.”
A warning over pace of play, which has plagued the women’s game at times, followed. “We have an opportunity to set an example throughout the week, irrespective of disruptive weather,” Slumbers said.
The R&A used pre-tournament media duties to confirm venues until 2025, with Muirfield in 2022 the standout element. The East Lothian club hasn’t hosted an Open since 2013, with the decision to admit female members only made three years ago. “It’s a huge statement,” said Slumbers of Muirfield. “It’s a huge statement of their commitment to the game and their commitment to the women’s game. But the whole five years is intended to be a huge statement of intent about how we want to provide the platform for the best women golfers to play on some of the best golf courses that we can offer in GB&I.” Carnoustie is the location for 2021, Walton Heath 2023, St Andrews 2024 and Royal Porthcawl 2025.
Slumbers admitted the rescheduled men’s Royal St George’s Open, now set for next summer, might not be feasible with galleries. “I have absolutely no regrets over the decision we made to cancel the Open this year,” he said. “It was not possible for us to do it. One hopes that the world is going to be in a better place come next season, but if it’s not, we will absolutely assess behind closed doors Open Championship as one of the options come July 2021.”