Catriona Matthew glad to see Muirfield moving with times ahead of Women's Open

·3-min read
Catriona Matthew chats with her caddie during her practice round at Muirfield
Catriona Matthew chats with her caddie during her practice round at Muirfield

There are various benefits to playing in the first group of a major championship. You can get the best of the weather, the greens will be running as true as a marble plinth and you’ll avoid all the plooterers and zip round at a sprightly pace. There’s another spin-off too.

“It’s perfect, because hopefully there won’t be too many people there,” said Catriona Matthew with self-deprecating chuckle.

One can’t imagine her topping it off the tee, mind you. And this won’t be any old tee-shot either. Matthew’s early-morning clatter down Muirfield’s first fairway at 6:30am tomorrow will be a symbolic moment for the female game as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, a hitherto bastion of male privilege for some 275 years, stages an historic AIG Women’s Open for the first time. There may be a few more folk milling around than Matthew thinks.

It’s fitting, then, that this celebrated, decorated golfing icon of East Lothian, who has the enduring qualities of Muirfield’s wrought-iron gates, will get things cracking.

Matthew made her Women’s Open debut as an amateur in the 1990s, before the event was a major. Since it got elevated to that lofty status in 2001, she’s played in every one and famously won it in 2009 at Lytham just a few weeks after becoming a mother.

“Growing up just along the road, I never would have imagined ever playing a major so close to home,” said the 53-year-old from North Berwick.

Not so long ago, the prospect of a professional women’s event coming to this parish was as remote as the outer rings of Saturn. Muirfield had staged a couple of Curtis Cups and Vagliano Trophy matches on the amateur front but this is a whole new ball game for a golfing institution that finally opened its doors to female members in 2017.

“Over the last 10 years, we started going to all The Open venues that over the last 50, 60 years you’ve seen the men playing in,” said Matthew. “I think that just elevates this championship and we are now going to courses that people are used to seeing The Open on. That is good for us.”

When Muirfield’s initial vote on female membership in 2016 failed to gain a two-thirds majority, the earth-shuddering result reverberated like the impact of the mega-meteor that obliterated the dinosaurs. Of course, many suggested the golfing dinosaurs survived. A year later, though, another vote overturned that decision and Muirfield moved into a brave new world. Hosting the AIG Women’s Open sends out another all-embracing message of inclusivity.

“I’ve got a couple of friends who are now members,” added Matthew. “We just have to look forward rather than backwards. With golf starting in Scotland, we had a lot more traditions perhaps. We’re gradually moving with the times.”

The times they have a-changed for Matthew at Muirfield too. “One of the first times I remember coming here, I was a litter picker for one of The Opens,” she reflected with a smile.

This week’s title will be defended by Anna Nordqvist, who won the Women’s Amateur Championship along the road at North Berwick back in 2008, while Nelly Korda’s blether with the press yesterday was rudely interrupted. “Oh my God, that is a huge spider there,” gasped the world No.3 of this visitor scuttling next to her microphone. “I do not like spiders.”

It probably scurried from the cobwebs shrouding this correspondent’s ageing laptop. The fine, fair links of Muirfield, meanwhile, should spin a golfing web of intrigue and excitment over the next few days.