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  • Alistair Tait

One Giant Leap For Women, One…

If you filled in the words “giant leap for womenkind” in the headline then you’re wrong. The words you should have used is “giant leap for golf.”

Fair enough, you didn’t know the reference. I’ll let you off the hook. Savvy readers might have known I’m referring to the best news to start 2022: doubling the U.S. Women’s Open purse to $10 million. That’s not just great news for women’s golf, but for golf in general.

It brings this game closer to the parity needed in the year 2022. Goodness knows women tour pros have lagged behind the men for far too long.

I was critical of Mike Whan when he was LPGA commissioner for the unfairness over the Sophia Popov fiasco, but I have nothing but praise for him in his new role as USGA boss for enabling the world’s best women golfers to achieve near parity with the top men in America’s national championships.

Jon Rahm will defend his U.S. Open title at The Country Club in Brookline , Massachusetts, where the prize fund will be a minimum of $12 million. Not quite true equality for Yuka Saso when she defends her U.S. Women’s Open title at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina, but a huge step towards it.

The USGA news follows the R&A’s commitment of raising the prize fund for the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield to $6.8 million. The men will play for a minimum of $10.5 million at St Andrews in the 150th Open Championship. Still a shortfall, but a positive move by the R&A that will surely lead to reducing the pay gap in future.

As fellow Woburn Golf Club member Meghan MacLaren tweeted upon hearing the U.S. Women’s Open prize increase:

And, on current evidence, they are leading the way. Indeed, current R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers has made getting more girls and women into golf a cornerstone of his tenure as R&A chief executive. His mission appears to be paying off. As the above tweet suggests, just the fact the Women's Open will be held at Murifield speaks volumes for where golf is headed. Ten years ago, many in golf would probably have laughed if you'd suggested the 2022 Women's Open would be held on the course owned by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.

For years, participation numbers for women in Great Britain came in at 13%. However, a recent report in The Golf Business by Alistair Dunsmuir cites a surge in female participation figures. He writes:

“The pandemic has meant that the male / female ratio in UK golf participation has changed exponentially, as female participation at UK golf courses more than tripled between 2019 and 2020, with nearly 1.5 million women playing at least one full round of golf in 2020.
The number of women golfers grew from just over 400,000 to 1.46 million – and from 14 percent of all golfers to 28 percent – in that time, according to figures from SMS.”

Throw in the Ladies European Tour playing for a minimum of €24 million this year with 31 tournaments, a €4.5 million rise on 2021 and the most tournaments and prize money in the LET's 44-year history, and women’s golf is on the up.

There will be those dinosaurs who argue the best women aren’t a patch on the best men, that the likes of Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, etc attract more sponsors and more fans and therefore deserve more money. Maybe, but I’d say many male professionals make far too much money anyway. One hundred and twenty four players earned over $1 million on last year’s PGA Tour money list. Really? European Tour players are set to play for $200 million this season. A few good seasons on the European or PGA Tours and many players are set for life. Are many of them worth all this dosh? No.

As for women professionals, the top LPGA stars might enjoy a lavish lifestyle but the same can’t be said for those on the Ladies European Tour, especially those further down the pecking order, where the pay gap widens even more. As good friend and fellow Association of Golf Writers member Martin Dempster noted recently, aspiring women tour pros have a much harder time getting a foothold on the LET than men do on the European Tour.

I’m not campaigning for the world’s best women golfers to become as rich as the men, just for more of a level playing field to signal to young girls and women that golf is truly an equal sport. Goodness knows those signals have not been much in evidence in the past, especially in Great Britain.

Closing the pay gap is important because of the message it sends out. Not just to the general public, but to potential sponsors who will hopefully invest in women’s golf, especially European women’s golf, and, most importantly, the message it sends to young girls and women taking up or thinking of taking up the game.

#JustSaying: “This move from the USGA will encourage the other majors and the regular tour events to increase their prize funds, too. It just moves the whole sport in the right direction.” Gemma Dryburgh

Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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