Sport

Golf breaking down gender barriers

Source: Keith Allison (via Flickr)

by Laura Price

So far 2019 has been a great year for golf making changes to the game simplifying the sport and making it more accessible for all ages, abilities and genders.

April 2019 will see professional golfers from the Staysure Tour, the Challenge Tour and the Ladies’ European Tour compete in a mixed open in Jordan.

1993 Ryder Cup competitor Barry Lane is a proponent for mixed competitions and all for next month’s tournament in Jordan: “It’s something different, and for more people to engage in golf that’s what we need.”

The game has been evolving recently, with the intention of making golf more enjoyable and efficient for players, spectators and newcomers to the sport.

Although many players have experienced some growing pains this season following several controversial changes to the rules. Adam Scott even suggesting that following the new rules professional golf has “become a laughing stock.”

Pundits and players alike are divided over the recent changes, players like Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis stepping out in favour of such changes because they simplify the game making it more watchable.

Other players do not share this view, especially not Haotong Li who came 12th rather than third following a two shot penalty, given for allegedly having his caddie line up his putt on the final green of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – a penalty which ultimately cost him $100,000.

Despite whether people are in favour of the changes being made to the game, it is true that they’re happening. Golf has always been a male dominated sport, certainly when played for leisure if not completely in the professional game. The attempts to make the game more accessible are also attempts to improve gender equality in the sport and to show that female professionals can compete with the men.

That is certainly the goal of Jordan’s mixed open. Aayla Golf Club will host a wide variety of players during the tournament.

The Staysure tour, formerly the senior tour and the Challenge tour, the second tier of men’s professional golf, make up the competitions male counterparts who will play against women from the European Tour.

Lane is a huge advocate for new and different events in golf: “It should be something that appeals to a wide audience and hopefully gets youngsters engaged. Sport should be inclusive, and different sexes playing against each other is only right.”

Given the statistical differences in men and women’s golf, players from the Challenge tour will be playing over 7,100 yards, the Staysure tour 6,601 yards and the Ladies European Tour 6,139 yards. It will be interesting to see how the scores reflect and how the different players attack their respective courses.

Women have played against men before, in 2003 Annika Sorenstam accepted an offer to play in a PGA tournament in Texas and in 2016 Lexi Thomspon played alongside men in the Franklin Templeton Shootout.

It is becoming more commonplace for professionals to compete in mixed competitions, not only is it great to see female professionals being taken seriously and recognised in their sport, it’s also important for younger players and prospective professionals to see men and women playing and competing together, paving the way for gender equality in golf.

As for the tournament in Jordan, “It’s never been done before,” says Lane “so there might be some teething problems with tees because it is tricky to work out exactly where they should be, but they’ve really worked hard on converting driving distances to the tees we play off. It’s a great chance for us old guys to play against these young stars. I just hope there is a good spread of players across the tours who make the cut for the last day.”

There will be 40 players competing from each tour as well as the three leading amateurs, the field will be cut to 60 for the final 18 holes of the three-day tournament.

English player Olivia Cowan says the event has created a lot of interest: “It is a really exciting concept and there is a real buzz about it among the girls on tour.” said the 22-year- old: “Everyone is excited to play here.”

The tournament will be held three months after England’s Meghan MacLaren, set to be one of the 40 Ladies European Tour players in Jordan, highlighted the £5m difference in the prize money between the men’s and ladies events in Abu Dhabi.

English Solheim Cup player Trish Johnson will compete alongside Cowan and MacLaren in Aqaba. Lane will be joined by fellow Ryder Cup player Phil Price of Wales.

Former European Tour winners Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland and Germany’s Marcel Siem will be two of the representatives from the Challenge Tour.

It will be interesting to see how the standard of play compares across the three tours and whether the physiological, strategic and logistical differences help or hinder good golfing competition. The sport has a long way to go like many others, but professional mixed opens and a positive dialogue surrounding mixed competitions are huge steps in bolstering the stigma surrounding professional female golf, and women’s sport in general.

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