England’s number one Charley Hull cannot wait for this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open to start on Thursday, as the championship will be played at her home club, Woburn, for the first time in 17 years.
The 20-year-old from Kettering in Northamptonshire is looking forward to starring in the 40th anniversary celebrations of both the championship and the golf club when the tournament is staged at the venue for the 10th time.
Held on the Duke’s Course nine times from 1984 until 1999, this will be the first time that the championship will be played on the on the Marquess’ Course as Woburn hosts the championship for the first time since it gained Major status in 2001.
Forming part of the Woburn Estate, home to the Duke of Bedford, Woburn Golf Club is one of the UK’s premier golf facilities, boasting three world class Championship golf courses. The Marquess’ Course is the most recent of the three courses, opening in 2000, and it has hosted two European Tour events: the British Masters in 2001 and 2015.
Designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark, European Golf Design (Ross McMurray) and Alex Hay, the course is set within 200 acres of mixed woodland on the Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire boundary. Named after the then Marquess of Tavistock, the club describes the course as the ‘Jewel in the Crown.’
Huge galleries are expected with British fans eager to watch the world’s best players and Hull said: “I can’t wait for the Ricoh Women’s British Open. I think it’s a great catchment area in such close proximity to London and I know we’ll have terrific crowds. I think it’s going to be brilliant and hopefully the weather is going to be great, because it’s really nice to play in sunshine… in fact, it’s great even in the rain! The Marquess’ Course is a great test of golf and I know how excited all the members are to have the championship return.
“The practise facilities are great and they’ve got a new short game area. Although The Marquess’ Course is tree lined, it’s not as tree lined as the others. They can grow the rough up. It’s an American style course in a way, but with an English feel to it. I think everyone will enjoy it and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Hull’s best finish in four previous appearances in the Ricoh Women’s British Open was 12th at Royal Birkdale in 2014. Although Woburn is an entirely different challenge and it’s her favourite Major, she is trying not to pile any additional pressure on.
“I don’t set myself goals for tournaments, because every tournament I’m in, I’m trying to win it, so that’s my main goal. It would be great to win the British Open, especially at your home golf course. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on me and a lot of focus, so I’m not going to be thinking about it too much.
“It’s going to be special but I’m not going to make it more than it is, it’s just another tournament, on my home golf course. I know it’s a Major but I’ll pretend I’m playing with my friends – and I am! I’ve got good friends on tour, so I’ll go out there and enjoy myself.”
She also down played the home advantage and the benefits of being able to sleep in her own bed, adding: “I haven’t actually played the Marquess’ that many times, even though I’ve been a member there since I was 10. I usually play on the Dukes and the Duchess courses because they are very tight. I still need to play a couple of practise rounds!”
This will also be the 10th year of Japanese technology company Ricoh’s title sponsorship, which is somewhat appropriate given that Japan’s Ayako Okamoto triumphed when the championship was first played at Woburn in 1984.
The list of former winners at Woburn also includes Swedish star Helen Alfredsson, who lifted the trophy in 1990, Yorkshire’s Penny Grice-Whittaker, who won in 1991 and American Patty Sheehan, in 1992. Australian Karen Lunn won the title at the venue in 1993, followed by Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann in 1994 and Australian Karrie Webb in 1995. Americans Emilee Klein and Sherri Steinhauer won in 1996 and 1999 respectively.
Hall of Famer Webb, who has won three British Opens, at Woburn, Sunningdale and Turnberry in 1995, 1997 and 2002 respectively, has fond memories and recalled: “Woburn was the site of my first British Open win in 1995 so I’m really looking forward to going back. Obviously it’s different to the courses we’ve played recently in the British Open but what I remember from before was that it can get baked in the summer and you really have to be hitting good tee shots to give yourself a chance to hit good approach shots into the greens.”
Other star players in the field include world No. 1 Lydia Ko, a two-time Major winner who is on a roll and who has no plans of slowing down any time soon. The 19-year old is coming oﬀ her 14th LPGA Tour victory two weeks ago at the Marathon Classic where she outlasted Ariya Jutanugarn and Mirim Lee in a four-hole playoﬀ. It marked a tour-leading four victories this season, and she has seen resounding success in majors in 2016 already. This is her ﬁfth appearance at the event and is she is coming oﬀ her career-best ﬁnish in the Ricoh Women’s British Open, which was a tie for third last season at Turnberry.
The American quartet of Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis (who won at St Andrews in 2013), Gerina Piller and Cristie Kerr will also be full of confidence after they were “crowned” the best golﬁng nation after their come-from-behind victory at the UL International Crown outside Chicago.
However, defending champion Inbee Park has unfortunately been forced to withdraw due to an injury to her left thumb.
The Ricoh Women’s British Open was founded by the LGU in 1976 and is staged in conjunction with IMG, the world’s largest sports marketing company, since 1984. Sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour since its inception, the event has been co-sanctioned by the LPGA since 1994 and gained Major status in 2001.
In 2016 it will be the fourth of five women’s Majors to be played, following the ANA Inspiration, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and US Women’s Open and preceding the Evian Championship. It is also the final championship to be played before the Rio Olympic Games.