The R&A is determined to ensure the AIG Women’s Open continues to grow in stature, with Chief Executive Martin Slumbers highlighting the value of the championship in inspiring the next generation of golfers.
Last year’s AIG Women’s Open proved a huge success in trying circumstances. Although the championship was played behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, four thrilling days of action at Royal Troon provided plenty of memorable drama and culminated in a heart-warming ending as Sophia Popov claimed glory.
Prior to Popov’s success, two major announcements had also generated optimism for the future growth of the championship. AIG extended its title partnership of the AIG Women’s Open to 2025, while world-class venues for the next five editions of the championship were also announced, with Carnoustie, Muirfield, Walton Heath, St Andrews and Royal Porthcawl set to serve as hosts.
Commenting on the extension of the title partnership, Slumbers said: “Peter Zaffino, the CEO of AIG, and I share a common vision. A long-term vision for women’s golf and the importance of women’s golf, and making the championship a platform to promote the best women’s golf.
“We were both delighted to extend our partnership and we are determined to make sure that we continue to grow the championship, make it better every year, improve the stature and do what is right.
“We believe that the AIG Women’s Open creates this platform for demonstrating skills and showing us how good the players are, but also trying to create role models for the next generation.
“It is so important, I think in the women’s game particularly, that the best players are those role models for the next generation. And we’re very fortunate to have a group of the best players at the moment who really understand that and are embracing it, and together we will all win.”
The successful staging of the 2020 AIG Women’s Open represented a huge boost to The R&A and women’s golf, given the significant difficulties brought about by COVID-19.
“We are immensely proud of it,” said Slumbers. “And I’m very proud that we got the championship away last year. Golf sometimes doesn’t get the credit that it deserves, but it was the only major women’s sporting event in the UK last year, and that was something we were very aware of, and we were very determined to make sure that it happened.
“We’ve got great partners, the Scottish Government were terrific, we want to create a passion for it and we keep getting these wonderful fairytale champions. That will all feed into this creating a mystique around the championship, which I think is what the very best events have.
“It’s difficult when we didn’t have crowds, but when a player walks on to the first tee on Thursday morning, you want them to realise what they’re playing for, and playing for the championship and a place in history. That’s what we’re trying to do and that creates the snowball that will make the championship even better.
“And what I really do enjoy is that the employees at The R&A have really bought into the whole story and building the championship and are really engaged in it.”
There was certainly no shortage of inspirational action at Royal Troon as the world’s best players coped admirably with some of the toughest conditions imaginable on days one and two.
Strong winds battered Scotland’s west coast and made for a hugely demanding test, but Popov and many of her fellow competitors rose to the challenge superbly.
“I was so impressed last year with how well the players performed when the weather was truly awful on Thursday and Friday,” Slumbers added. “Royal Troon is a tough golf course, and especially with the direction the wind was blowing.
“It was fantastic golf and something that I think more and more people need to watch, because it’s not just exciting, it is really a motivator for people to take up the game.”
After such a dramatic AIG Women’s Open in 2020, Slumbers is eagerly anticipating more of the same in 2021.
“I can’t wait for Carnoustie,” he concluded. “I’m looking forward to a bit of sunshine, a bit of wind, a bit of blue sky. It will be fantastic.”
To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, we asked a number of R&A staff to tell us what it means to them to work on the AIG Women’s Open. Here is a selection of their replies:
Karen Myers, Executive Director – Corporate Communications: “As a woman, it’s very motivating. In fact if we so chose, which actually wouldn't be right for diversity, we could pretty much staff the entire championship with The R&A’s female employees as we have women as experts in every part of the business.
Kelly Laskiewicz, Head of Brand: “Working on the AIG Women’s Open has excited me for what it has promised to do for women’s golf. The championship has been very careful to position itself not as a female equivalent of The Open but as a platform for elite women athletes to shine in their own right and to continue the pioneering spirit that has been apparent throughout the history of women’s golf.
“It continues to give women a voice in what may be called a male-dominated sport and to champion the right for everyone with the talent and work ethic to succeed. I love working on the AIG Women’s Open as it continues to push boundaries and is not afraid to ask what can be achieved next.”
Chris Gabe, Head of Ticketing: “It’s brilliant to be part of such a fantastic championship. Seeing the best players in the world compete at some of the best and most challenging courses in the UK is an inspiration.
“I’m excited to be part of a growing sport, a growing event, and hopefully inspiring more women and girls to fall in love with our wonderful game.”
Claire McGuire, Project Manager – Championships: “Offering the best women golfers in the world a stage to showcase their skills to the younger generation links perfectly with The R&A Women in Golf Charter.
“Personally and professionally, I take great pride in playing a part in the staging of the championship, not only for inspiring the younger generation but to act as a platform that motivates individuals of all ages to remain within our great sport.”
Marie Morrison, Brand Coordinator – Professional Championships: “I feel privileged to work on the AIG Women’s Open, as it’s a great opportunity to celebrate exceptional athletes who are not only at the top of their game but also at the forefront of women’s sport.
“The R&A’s purpose is to ensure golf is thriving in 50 years’ time and, for me, encouraging women and girls into the game is a crucial part of that.
“Our brand promise is to champion the changing face of golf and put these amazing athletes front and centre, which is where they deserve to be. Being able to work on a brand with this ambition is very exciting and something I’m proud to play a small part in.”
Robert Jones, Manager - Championships: "As a passionate golf enthusiast, working on a championship with the global profile of the AIG Women's Open is a true privilege. I see it as a great responsibility to ensure that the championship meets The R&A's world class standards and to ensure it is an effective platform to showcase women's golf. By doing that, we hope to inspire many more young women to watch and participate in golf."