Five years later, the course opens its doors for the fifth and last major of the women’s season, to the delight of the participants.
It will be a special kind of excitement for Scottish golfer Catriona Matthew who, as well as having the opportunity to experience a major tournament a short drive from her home, will go down in history as the first woman to play at Muirfield in a Women’s Open.
« It’s a huge honor when you’re asked to do something like this », Matthew, Open champion at Royal Lytham in 2009, told reporters on Tuesday.
« I think it’s going to be a great experience…all the players will have watched the men play here over the years and I think they’re thrilled to have this opportunity to come here and play their own Open.
« It just elevates this championship, and now we’re going to courses that people are used to seeing the Open and the Majors on. I think that’s good for us. »
The 52-year-old admitted she was « disappointed » with the initial vote to keep the all-male membership but believes the reversal showed progress was being made.
“Just looking forward rather than looking back,” Matthews added. « Golf, starting in Scotland, we had maybe a lot more traditions, which we are gradually evolving over time.
« I hope that every girl or boy who plays golf can see men and women playing on the same golf courses, which is good. »
Anna Nordqvist comes to East Lothian as the reigning Open champion, having picked up a one-shot victory at Carnoustie last year. With her first major appearance as an amateur at the event in 2007, the triumph cemented a « special » bond between the three-time Major winner Swede and the Open.
« I’ve heard a lot about Muirfield, » Nordqvist said. « I know the guys have played here over the years so I think it’s an amazing opportunity for us to have Muirfield added to our Open rotation.
« Coming in through the door, (I) saw my picture – it’s the first picture you see – obviously it’s still pretty surreal to have my name on the trophy, » she added. .
Despite the pain of seeing Sweden beaten 4-0 in the semi-finals by the eventual champions, Nordqvist sees parallels in the increased coverage of women’s football and golf.
« It’s just exciting to see that I think women’s sport (all) around the world is getting more attention, » she said.
« It was quite a big event, the way they were running it and the TV times, I think that’s very important. Our tee times are getting better too. A lot of times we leave early because (of) … the guys’ schedule. »
« Reloaded »
While Nordqvist starts as the defending champion, Brooke Henderson arguably starts off as the in-form player.
After withdrawing from the Scottish Open, won by Japan’s Ayaka Furue on Sunday, Henderson is « recharged » and eager to go.
« Playing this year really means a lot to all of us, » she said. « It’s just proof that women’s football continues to grow – the size of the purses is increasing, we’re on network TV more and we’re playing in these top venues.
« It’s just a really fun time to be a part of women’s golf because it’s growing so much and we feel like we’re making a difference for future generations. »
« I was extremely excited to be a part of this event this year, » she said.
« I knew the history, and the fact that we were going to be the first women’s tournament here too was pretty amazing.
« So I was just more excited to be here and to be able to play on this golf course and soak up everything and the history of this place. »
Catriona Matthew is set to play first his band alongside Sophia Schubert and Louise Duncan at 6:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. ET) Thursday.