As Mike Wilson argues, it’s high time for golf to take a look from tennis, where men’s and women’s prize money is – at the ‘Majors’ at least - equal.
It’s high time for golf to take a look from tennis, where men’s and women’s prize money is - at the ‘Majors’ at least - equal.
Now we are officially in autumn. It’s time to air that hoary old chestnut that is a firm favourite of Bunker Mentality, namely the vast, iniquitous and outdated differential in prize money earned by male and female professional golfers around the world. And, with the winner of his national Ladies Scottish Open this year making a mere 18.5% of her male equivalent.
It is 10 years since the last of the four tennis ‘Majors,’ Wimbledon, introduced equal prize money for the men’s and women’s singles and getting on for half-a-century since the U.S. Open became the first of the sport’s Grand Slam events to offer equal remuneration for both sexes.
Of course, the arguments raged then - as they still do to a much lesser extent - not so much on the point of principle. But on the fact that the winner of this year’s women’s singles title at the U.S. Open will win the same amount - US$3.5m - as the men’s singles champion whilst playing a maximum of three sets per match compared to the gruelling maximum of five required of the men.
And, in some respects, that’s a fair argument, equal pay for equal work. But don’t expect the men to be having their workload reduced or the women theirs substantially increased anytime soon.
However, it seems as if professional golf is stuck in a time warp. Women, playing exactly the same 72 holes in their U.S. Open and Women’s British Open as the men, admittedly slightly shorter holes to take cognisance of the respective hitting power of the genders.
But the best female players in the world face exactly the same challenges as their male counterparts, challenges which include playing under pressure, competing against the very best of the rest, playing in wind and rain, out of bunkers and the rough, avoiding out-ofbounds and that cruellest of all mistresses, Lady Luck herself.
Having covered four open championships in the month of July, the Scottish Open followed by the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, then the Ladies Scottish Open and finally the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the most striking differences were how much fun the women’s events were to cover as a journalist. More so for those intrepid photographers how much the female players seemed to be enjoying - as opposed to the men seemingly
enduring - their God-given talent and how accessible, amenable and open the top female players are, to fans and the media.
Watching women’s golf at the elite level was like watching in 3D, high-definition colour. The men’s events one-dimensional and seemingly in black-and-white, and yet there were four-times the number of press, including golf ‘Number-ones,’ and feature writers in attendance at the men’s events.
Having calculated that Mi-Hyang Lee, the winner of the Ladies Scottish Open made exactly 18.5% of the US$1.25m earned by Rafa Cabrera-Bello a fortnight earlier for winning the men’s version over the self-same Dundonald Links golf course. And that the winner of the Ricoh Women’s British Open (In-Kyung Kim) would win 27% of the US$1.9m won by Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale, the pre-tournament press conferences ahead of the Women’s British Open presented a perfect opportunity to gauge the mood in the ladies locker-room.
Asked about the gender pay gap, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew said, “I think equality is moving in the right direction,” adding, “Obviously in an ideal world, you'd love it to be the same amount in each, but I think certainly we're heading in the right way.”
Meanwhile, English poster-girl Charley Hull said, “I don't know, really. I suppose because men have more coverage, so then more people watch it, so it's better sponsorship,” adding, “But I don't know. I think it's getting there, but I can't answer that question though, I don't think about it too much.”
So, it was left to the Grand Dame of women’s golf, Laura Davies to hit the nail on the head.
“We need backing from Europe corporate, we need them to put their money behind us [and] think we're a good product, because I think we are,” said the 54-year-old, insisting, “I think the girls do a great job in the ProAms and the way they conduct themselves at tournaments.
“But we need people to step up with the money to back us. TV, we're getting more TV now, but we're not seeing the results from it,” continued the winner of 84 titles worldwide, admitting, “I'm just a golfer. I don't know why.
“If you're saying women's sport doesn't get the support it deserves, I agree with you 100%,” reflected the four-time ‘Major’ winner, concluding, “I don't know why we don't get the support.
“The LPGA Tour is so well backed, and I would have thought we would get something like that in Europe, but for some reason, the corporate world isn't that interested in us at the moment. Hopefully, that will change, so fingers crossed.”
And perhaps within those responses from three of women’s golf’s finest, past, present and future, lie some of the reasons why the gender prize money gap is as wide as ever.
Firstly, contrary to what Matthew says, equality is not moving in the right direction and women’s golf, particularly in Europe where the Ladies European Tour is on its knees, they are not heading in the right way.
Secondly - and it’s hard to be critical of the 22-year-old Hull who is just enjoying life and playing for sums of money hitherto unimaginable - perhaps more of the senior players need to start thinking more about their plight, and acting upon it.
Thirdly, Davies may be, “Just a golfer,” but with her status, experience, influence and connections, “Fingers crossed,” is no strategy at all, whilst, “The LPGA Tour is so well backed,” that’s only by comparison with Europe and Asia.
Rumour has it that, even given an eyewatering US$9.25m prize fund for a limited field event on the PGA TOUR in Korea this month, significant inducements are having to be offered to golf’s ‘Top brass,’ to take part, perhaps spooked by the latest missile crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
That same week, for a prize fund of just US$2.2m, each and every one of the LPGA elite will be battling-it-out in far-flung Taiwan in search of the US$300,000 top prize, somewhat less than the appearance fees the PGA TOUR ‘Top dogs,’ are said to be seeking to take part in the CJ Cup in Korea.
Ask any tennis journalist or ex-player for three words to explain why women’s tennis is as strong as it is and has been enjoying parity with their male counterparts for the best part of a generation, and they will recite, ‘Bille,’ ‘Jean’ and, ‘King.’ And, with a host of retired superstars such as Davies, Annika Sörenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak.
With so many women now rightly occupying senior marketing roles and decisionmaking jobs in TV, perhaps, were they to try it, women’s golfers and their administrators might just find themselves pushing against an open door; if they never ask the question, they will never receive an answer.
English poster-girl Charley Hull said, “I don't know, really. I suppose because men have more coverage, so then more people watch it, so it's better sponsorship.”
“We need backing from Europe corporate, we need them to put their money behind us [and] think we're a good product, because I think we are,” said Laura Davies, the 54-year-old Grand Dame of women’s golf