Muirfield is gearing up to stage its first ladies’ tournament for nearly 20 years in the wake of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which owns and runs the East Lothian course, opening its doors to women members.
The East Lothian Ladies’ County Golf Association will hold its showpiece event at the Open Championship venue in a few weeks’ time after a request was approved by the HCEG committee before the first ballot on admitting women members failed last May. It will be the third time that the ELLCGA has staged an event at Muirfield – the last occasion was for a special celebration in 1999 – with interest in this tournament proving “very popular” among its 200-plus members.
“We are delighted to be the guests of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers this year,” said ELLCGA captain Elaine Dick of the venue hosting the County Championship, which starts off with a qualifier on 24 April before separate scratch and handicap title battles are fought out on 30 April and 1 May.
“We first played there in 1924, when Muirfield kindly allowed the newly-formed county to play one of their inter-county matches over the course. We returned in 1999 to play a special event to mark the county’s 75th anniversary. On that occasion, there was a ballot for the 40 places available. This event is proving very popular, with approximately 160 either entered or on the waiting list.”
Given that the ELLCGA’s members live locally, it would seem logical that some of those taking part in an event that was won three times by Catriona Matthew in her amateur days might be candidates to be proposed as Muirfield’s first women members. “I cannot say at this stage whether any of our members will be seeking membership, but it is a wonderful opportunity to play the course and enjoy the facilities,” added Dick. “For many, it will be their first chance to do so.”
The event will be played from existing blue tees, which provide a par-76 test measuring 5,983 yards.
“We look forward to welcoming the East Lothian Ladies County Golf Association next month, when the Spring Meeting and Championship will be played at Muirfield for the first time,” said Stuart McEwen, the HCEG secretary.
After the first ballot failed by just 14 votes to secure a two-thirds majority required, the HCEG committee moved quickly to set the wheels in motion to try again. A second ballot gained 80.2 support, meaning the male-only barriers are coming down after 273 years. Long-time Scottish No 1 and North Berwick resident Matthew, who claimed her three East Lothian Ladies’ titles in 1990, 1992 and 1994 when she was still Catriona Lambert, was among those to welcome the decision.
The first lady recorded as playing golf at Muirfield was in 1904 while both the Curtis Cup and Vagliano Trophy have been held there twice. It also staged the Scottish Close Championship in 1914.