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
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