On May 19, 2016, Muirfield was removed from the Open Championship rota after a vote on admitting women members narrowly failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required.
Just over six years later, the world’s best female players will contest their final major of the season, the AIG Women’s Open, at the East Lothian venue this week and compete for a record prize fund of 7.3million US dollars (£6million).
The winner on Sunday will receive 1.095million dollars (£903,000), a landmark moment which looked impossible when 36 per cent of members of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (HCEG), which owns and runs Muirfield, voted against admitting women members.
The announcement of the result was followed minutes later by the R&A stating that Muirfield would not stage the Open while the policy remained in place, a reaction which no doubt played a major role in the outcome of a second vote in March 2017, which passed by 498 votes to 123.
“I think 2016 was an important time for this sport and for the R&A,” chief executive of the R&A, Martin Slumbers, said in a pre-tournament press conference at Muirfield.
“I had only been in the organisation a few months. We had been working very hard on a strategy for the R&A that had inclusivity very much as a part of it. We were in the beginning stages of merging with the Ladies Golf Union and, frankly, that merger transformed the R&A into where we are today.
“I think that when you think back over that six-year period since then, women’s golf has really exploded, and it’s got a long way to go yet. But I do think that that time will be viewed as pivotal in that change.
“The R&A had no responsibility to this championship until 2016, and, in fact, we only got full control of it two years ago. In thinking about where do we want to position the championship, I’ve talked often about a pyramid, with the championship at the top.
“Part of that is big-time sport needs big-time crowds. But big-time sport also needs big-time venues. We were absolutely focused on how do we get the best venues that we can get that mean the most to golf, and stage the championship there.
“And for those of us who have been privileged to be able to play here before, this is a very special golf course with a very special history, and a course that generally gives rise to the very best player winning it.
“So this was all about platform. It’s all about elevation. I think the fact that quite a lot of stories are being written about it means we got the right venue.”
England’s Georgia Hall is targeting her second major title following her win at Royal Lytham in 2018, having also finished joint second behind Anna Nordqvist at Carnoustie last year.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Hall said of Muirfield. “I’ve heard really good things about the course and it is really good. I think everyone wants to win here, especially because it’s the first women’s professional event that we are playing in.
“I think it’s so important that the women are here this week. It makes such a mark on women’s golf, and AIG and the R&A have done a fantastic job working together to get the championship here.
“I think the women’s game is definitely in the best position it ever has been, and I’m very happy to be in the middle of my career doing that.”