Old Habits At The Old Course: Women Overlooked

Forget about the rights and wrongs of the changes being made to the Old Course ahead of the 2015 Open. What about the way in which everything in the combined statement from the R&A and the St Andrews Links Trust was aimed solely at the “elite” men? The two bodies clean forgot to make any mention of the women – and that though the Ricoh Women’s British Open is to be played at St Andrews in August of this year as opposed to two-and-a-half years down the road. It would not have taken much to make Stacy Lewis, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen, Laura Davies and the rest feel that their “major” counted for something. A simple addendum (even if not 100 percent truthful) would have sufficed: something along the lines that “officialdom had taken into account the needs of the women professionals
whose event comes first.” To Davies and others who have been around for a bit, so unthinking an approach sires memories of what happened following 9/11. Entirely understandably, the Ryder Cup of 2001 had to be cancelled in a hurry. Less understandable was the way in which the PGA and European Tours moved the match to the last week of September in 2002 without factoring in the Solheim Cup which was to be played a few days earlier. When the time came, the women’s match went under the radar amid the usual Ryder Cup build-up. With regard to the Old Course changes, Davies is in no mood to criticize the R&A. Not when they have just paved the way for the banning of anchored putters. Whatever anyone might say to the contrary, this former US and British Open champion is convinced that the process keeps the jitters unfairly at bay. Yet, she would like to have been able to read about how renovations to the Old Course might impact on the Ricoh. The first phase of the work, as we have been informed, has involved alterations to the notorious Road Hole bunker. The hazard was being widened by half a metre on the right-hand side, with a small portion of the front of the putting-surface being simultaneously re-contoured. Other “first phase” adjustments have included a change of position for bunkers at the second and the lowering of the far side of the 11th green. Davies was startled that the R&A and the Links Trust would want to meddle with the Road Hole bunker: “It was a lot of fun as it was.” As for the shifting sands at the second, she said that the worst scenario would be if these bunkers, or any others, were labelled GUR (ground under repair) during the Ricoh. None of the competitors will want to add to what Davies has had to say, for traditions at St Andrews are such that the women feel thrice blessed at having the chance to play there again. In 2007, when Lorena Ochoa won over the ancient links, competitors revelled in everything to do with the old grey town. “We’d walk on broken glass to go back,” said Scotland’s Mhairi McKay, the owner of a fourth-round 67. It did not take too much in the way of an investigation to discover why the aforementioned pre-Christmas joint statement read as it did. From the R&A’s side of things, Mike Woodcock, the Media and Editorial Manager, readily admitted that the game’s governing body had looked at the changes “purely with the 2015 Open in mind.” By way of justifying that approach, he explained that the Open was an R&A event whereas it was the Links Trust who hosted the Ricoh. (It is, in fact, not quite that straightforward in that the R&A give the women the run of their clubhouse.) As for the Links Trust, their new External Relations Manager, Laurie Watson, confessed to “an unfortunate oversight.” He could see why the women would be upset and wanted to make it plain that the Trust had had them in mind all along – or at least until it came to agreeing to the wording of the statement. On the morning we spoke, Watson stressed how much they enjoyed the women’s week – and how they could not wait for its return. The green-keeping staff, in particular, had talked endlessly of the need to have all the work finished and nicely bedded down well ahead of time. Watson then went further towards putting things to rights with the suggestion that the competitors’ opinions on the various changes would be greatly valued by R&A and Links Trust alike, largely because the women would be the first to be testing the alterations in a tournament context. On learning of the above, one bemused outsider asked if, when the time came, the men would remember to evince an interest in those opinions.


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