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"I for one am delighted with this outcome, having witnessed Phil Mickelson win his Open at Muirfield, I thought we had seen the last open at Muirfield and I had visited this enchanting venue for the last time because I certainly couldn’t afford their membership prices here” said a fan at the recent AIG Women’s Open Championship.
This fan is of course referring to Muirfield’s removal from The Open Championship rotation of courses in 2016 for its somewhat antiquated policy on restricting women from joining the club. So, six years on the hosting of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was a significant moment in women’s golf that shows the growth, support and reach for the women’s game.
This Muirfield Open couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for women’s sport with the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 hosted in England to great success and record crowds, and England Women’s national team winning the eventual final. Handing English football/soccer their first major trophy for over fifty years, it seems football finally came home. Significantly, the women’s Euros demonstrated the abundance of people of all genders willing to get behind women’s sport. Similarly at the AIG Women’s Open 2022, which boasted some exceptionally large crowds especially on the weekend playing.
And perhaps this should be the biggest story in golf, but it seems like every day now we hear of a new male golfer that has signed with the new LIV Golf Invitational Series much to the annoyance of the golfing traditionalists, and for obvious reasons too.
We have Major champions jumping ship, probably the second-best player of his generation in Phil Mickelson jumping ship and Ryder cup captains jumping ship. With even some players vocal in their criticisms of the two established golf tours, the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour, as their reasons for jumping ship. So, LIV Golf may be the biggest story in the game since Tiger Woods.
Even more talked about is where the money comes from that’s luring our Major champions, Ryder cup captains and Phil Mickelsons. The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and its limitless pot of cash has been a topic of controversy ever since the PIF started investing in sporting ventures internationally. Namely because of their appalling human rights records that have documented at great length, and accusations of sports washing through golf.
Unsurprisingly many golfers now associated to LIV Golf have come to its defence with 2010 US Open champion Graeme Mcdowell saying: “We're not politicians, we're professional golfers. If Saudi Arabia wants to use the game of golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be, I think we're proud to help them on that journey”.
More surprising is the number of fans, especially female golf fans who see a potential for women’s golf through LIV. At the AIG Women’s Open, one fan said that “it’s about time women get paid the same as men for this game and LIV could be the way to do it,” and another suggesting that the LIV format is perfect for including women, “with the team aspect and 54-hole nature, mixed events would be so exciting, and so possible, 25 yards, that’s the difference between average driving distance on the men’s game and the women’s game, it’s not much. Foursomes matches could also be possible in these teams. Imagine what that would do for the reputation of women’s golf, if they were the ones to break through the women barrier in Saudi Arabia."
Giving what we know of Saudi Arabia, an open arm welcome for a women’s golf league is unlikely but not impossible - especially after the success of the Aramco Team Series. LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux has suggested she would consider discussions with the Saudi-backed organisation. LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman has said he sees a woman’s LIV Series in the future.
What that might look like is an unknown at this point, but the suggestive mixed format and high prize funds would undoubtedly be beneficial to the women’s game by placing female golfers in the spotlight for breaking through the Saudi Arabian patriarchy. Or in the very least lead to direct uncomfortable questions of the Saudi PIF hierarchy of how the women’s game is faring in their homeland.
Questions they likely will not want to face because the LIV Invitational Series cannot be separated from its backers, and its backers cannot be separated from the rights of women in their sovereign country. So, in that sense the prospects of a Women’s LIV Invitational Series remains unlikely at this stage, but if Muirfield and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers can change their near-three-century-old policy on women, then surely anything is possible.
Regardless, the very existence of LIV Golf seems to inadvertently be influencing the women’s game. There is greater support from the traditionalists to protect the game of golf, encouraging more courses that have historically been reticent of women playing to disregard many of these archaic practices. Bigger TV deals and increased prize money are now a feature in women’s golf. It is of no coincidence that this year all five Major championships in women’s golf increased their prize funds with the US Women’s Open and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship purses doubling in size.
Either way, whether it’s LIV or not, the women’s game finds itself in a position to benefit and leverage the current turbulence in golf to its own advantages.
Kola is a freelance writer and academic who is passionate about golf. Having got into the game after moving to the United Kingdom from Nigeria at the age of 12, Kola has since played golf on every habitable continent with a steady but respectable handicap of 10. He makes an effort to attend both men’s and women’s Major championships where possible, and he affectionately refers to the game of Golf as “Jolf” - originating from a comical sketch that he and his friends have adopted into their common parlance.
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