Why women’s golf is poised to seize its chance to shine

The Ladies Euro­pean Tour re­sumes at the Scot­tish Open to­day with good rea­son to be­lieve the fu­ture is bright A so­cially dis­tanced sport

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Kate Rowan

Alexan­dra Ar­mas stops her­self from us­ing the word lucky to de­scribe the pro­fes­sional women’s golf tour’s rel­a­tively swift re­turn to com­pet­i­tive ac­tion. In­stead, the Ladies Euro­pean

Tour chief ex­ec­u­tive la­bels her sport as be­ing “less un­for­tu­nate” than oth­ers, given its nat­u­rally so­cially dis­tanced na­ture, as the cir­cuit restarts to­day with the Ladies Scot­tish Open.

The big names of the women’s game, in­clud­ing 2018 AIG Women’s Bri­tish Open win­ner Ge­or­gia Hall and last year’s Open win­ner Hi­nako Shi­buno, join the field at the Re­nais­sance Club in North Ber­wick this week.

It is a chance to boost the game’s pro­file fur­ther, which Ar­mas, a for­mer Tour player, be­lieves is vi­tal in an in­creas­ingly crowded women’s sport­ing marketplac­e. She also hopes that golf’s restart will push mo­men­tum to­wards the re­turn of the women’s English Open, which has not been played since 2008, and points to Hall and fel­low Sol­heim Cup team-mates Charley Hull and Bronte Law as key to tap­ping into new au­di­ences.

“Eng­land has a lot of other women’s sport but there is a lot of men’s golf. They don’t see that there is a gap by not hav­ing a women’s English Open, so it is up to us to el­bow our way in there and make peo­ple re­alise that they are miss­ing out by not hav­ing us,” says Ar­mas.

“Eng­land has amaz­ing fe­male golf stars and they need to get a more prom­i­nent pro­file. There is a de­mand that peo­ple want to see their favourite player play in her home coun­try. That is the start­ing point, it has hap­pened with women’s foot­ball, peo­ple fol­low­ing their favourite stars and now it has to hap­pen for English fe­male golfers.”

The Rose Ladies Se­ries ef­fect

Meghan Ma­cLaren, the two-time LET win­ner, still holds a trace of ex­cite­ment in her voice as she de­scribes how she felt when Justin and Kate Rose an­nounced that they were launch­ing the Rose Ladies Se­ries. “I thought I was dream­ing!

It was amaz­ing to have a golfer like Justin come on board with women’s golf, just to have some­one of that stature changes how peo­ple per­ceive us,” she says.

“For the last few years, I had been think­ing we re­ally needed a big name male ally and now that we have Justin Rose it is an im­por­tant mo­ment for women’s golf. I am not telling peo­ple that they have to watch us but it is about grow­ing that aware­ness. It meant so much to see Justin’s cad­die wear­ing a base­ball cap with the Rose Ladies Se­ries logo dur­ing the PGA Cham­pi­onship last week­end. Then for Justin to be talk­ing about it in all his in­ter­views – and that was at a ma­jor!”

The se­ries came into be­ing after the Roses read an in­ter­view in The Daily Tele­graph with LET pro­fes­sional Liz Young, who was or­gan­is­ing a tour­na­ment for Bri­tish fe­male pro­fes­sion­als to try to fill the gap be­fore the re­sump­tion of Tour golf.

Kate Rose, a pow­er­ful ad­vo­cate for in­creased equal­ity in women’s golf over the se­ries’ eight-week run, says: “I am a big be­liever of if you don’t see it, it is hard to want it. If women’s golf isn’t on telly, how are we ex­pect­ing women to take up the sport in Eng­land or in Bri­tain?”

She echoes Ma­cLaren’s point that bring­ing an au­di­ence, which may usu­ally only watch the men’s game, is key to grow­ing it for the women. “Men were re­ally en­joy­ing the Rose Ladies Se­ries high­lights on Sky Sports.”

De-bunk­ing elit­ist im­age

While Ma­cLaren is acutely aware that golf has a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing “very white and very male and can seem very priv­i­leged”, she is keen to de­bunk that stereo­type.

“There has been a lot of talk around di­ver­sity in sport re­cently and ob­vi­ously golf has a long way to go, but I see women’s play­ers as per­haps be­ing able to lead the way on broad­en­ing out who plays and watches golf,” she says.

“Al­ready, you see in the women’s game, there are more peo­ple who are open about their sex­u­al­ity. I think we can take that and use that to open our sport up.”

The idea of the ma­jor­ity of fe­male LET pro­fes­sion­als liv­ing a priv­i­leged life is quickly erased as so many play­ers do not even have spon­sors – the sit­u­a­tion Ma­cLaren cur­rently finds her­self in. “I am com­pletely re­liant on prize money. I don’t think lots of peo­ple are aware of how wide­spread that is.” Ar­mas agrees that there are mis­con­cep­tions around play­ers’ lifestyles. “Golf is a hard sport, the women are trav­el­ling on their own, it is not glam­orous,” she says. “They are at the top of their game and de­serve to be recog­nised for that. “That in­cred­i­ble side of them should not be min­imised be­cause peo­ple think it is rich, mid­dle­class kids hav­ing a jolly, which is not at all what these women are.”

Star at­trac­tion: Play­ers such as Ge­or­gia Hall are cru­cial

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