Catriona Matthew would “love to be a member of Muirfield” and has revealed “there are things in motion” that could make that happen after the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns and runs the East Lothian club, voted last month to admit women after 273 years as a male-only club.
While it seemed initially that there would be no “fast-tracking” at Muirfield – indeed, club captain Henry Fairweather suggested after a successful second vote that a “complicated admissions process” could leave women waiting as long as seven years to become members – that no longer appears to be the case.
In Matthew, who is not only one of the most decorated women golfers in Britain but also an East Lothian resident – she has lived in North Berwick all her life, in fact – the club has a perfect candidate on its doorstep and, by the looks of things, the 47-year-old could be set to become either its first female member or one of the first.
“Do you know something I don’t?” she replied, smiling, to being asked if a Muirfield membership offer was in the post during a media event at Gleneagles yesterday to promote the 2019 Solheim Cup at the Perthshire resort. “Living down there, I’d love to be a member. I’m not sure if professionals should be members, but let’s just say we are exploring the possibilities. There are things in motion.
“It’s not just going to be token members. The normal process to be a member is five years, I believe, and then they will open the waiting list and be treated equally. I think they will let in a fair few. I’d love to be a member. I’ve only played it a few times, but it’s a great place to play. I’m only a few minutes away.
“I don’t know all the ins and outs of the membership. It depends on the person or the applicant. I don’t know how some are quicker than others. I’m going there to play in a few weeks, so we’ll explore it then.”
There’s no denying that Matthew, a former Women’s British Open champion and eight-time Solheim Cup player, would be worthy of becoming a history-maker if she does indeed become the HCEG’s first woman member. She does everything with dignity and class, and even those who voted “no” again in that second ballot would be kidding themselves if they claimed the historic club wouldn’t be enhanced by having her as a member.
If there is anyone who needs to be convinced, then just listen to her considered view on the recent incident involving Lexi Thompson in which the American missed out on wining the ANA Inspiration, one of the women’s majors, after being hit with a four-shot penalty over a rules infringement that was “called in” by an armchair television viewer the day after it happened.
“It was unfortunate,” said Matthew. “She broke the rule, it was quite blatant. The LPGA handled it as well as they could in the circumstance. Perhaps they could have taken it to the side and not in the full view of the TV. She played the best golf that week. It put a dampener on the event.
“I had a rules incident once at Lytham. Surprisingly, I was in the rubbish and I hit a shot I thought had hit me. I went in and looked at it after my round and it had hit me, but this was done before I signed my card.
“I don’t think you should be able to phone in. If it’s not picked up there and then, then that’s it. You shouldn’t be able to phone in the next day. She broke the rule and got a two-shot penalty but to get another two seemed harsh. I know before she would’ve been disqualified, so at least that wasn’t the case.”
Asked if she was concerned the Thompson affair had caused negative publicity for the women’s game, she added: “Well, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. They were still talking about it at the Masters. For women’s golf to be talked about at the biggest event, which really starts the season, is pretty good. Obviously what they were talking about was not ideal but at least the women’s game was out there and getting attention.”
After a sluggish start to the season, Matthew is hoping to start attracting some attention herself on the course over the next couple of months. She has linked up again with her old coach, Kevin Craggs, and is hoping to kick-start her campaign when she returns to action in Texas next week. As one of Annika Sorenstam’s vice-captains, the Scot will definitely be involved in the Solheim Cup at Des Moines in Iowa, but she is still hoping to make that team as a player.
“If I can play well from mid-May onwards, I have a good chance – it’s early days,” she insisted. “A few look sure to be in the team, but the last six or so still have a lot to play for. At the end of the day, it will be who is in form at the time. And I think it’s definitely possible to be a playing vice-captain.”