Throughout history women have played golf and in Australia, the Women’s Australian Open has provided a vehicle in which to showcase our elite golfers, emerging golfers and to inspire Australians to take up the game of golf.
As our leading young players develop and grow from outstanding amateur players to elite professionals, women’s golf in Australia has grown and adapted and the re-emergence of the Women’s Australian Open for 2007 is a sign of the times that professional women’s golf in Australia is back and here to stay.
In 2003 there were nine Australian women turning professional, in 2005 there were 19 and currently 44 Australian women play professionally on the international circuits.
In 2007 we look forward to the return of Australia’s national women’s championship, the MFS Women’s Australian Open which will be held at The Royal Sydney Golf Club 1 – 4 February.
The event has an integral place in Australian women’s golf history. The first Australian Ladies Open Championship was played at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne in February 1974. The winner of the Championship, sponsored by W D & H O Wills, was Japan’s Chako Higuchi with a 54-hole total of 219. The total prize fund was $10,000.
In 1975 Qantas joined Wills as tournament sponsors and the championship was played at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney in March. The dominating force in golf at that time, JoAnne Carner of the USA, won with a score of 228 over a rain-sodden three days. The prize fund was $15,000.
In March 1976, the event returned to Victoria Golf Club and American tour star, Donna Caponi Young, blitzed the field with a three-round total of 206, including a record-shattering second round of 64.
Manly Golf Club in Sydney hosted the 1977 championship. Unfortunately, torrential rain made the course unplayable shortening the event to 36 holes. Home-town hero and emerging world star, Jan Stevenson, emerged victorious defeating Pat Bradley from the USA in a play-off. Both players scored 145 for the two rounds.
In 1978 at the same venue US tour star Debbie Austin left the field in her wake in what was to be the final Ladies Australian Open Championship for 16 years. She won with a three-round total of 213; prize money remained at $15,000.
The event was resurrected in 1994 with a new name and sponsor. The Holden Women’s Australian Open Championship was played at Royal Adelaide Golf Club in December with prize money of $200,000. The 72-hole championship was won by Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam with rounds of 68, 72, 72 and 74 (286). This was her first tournament win as a professional and heralded the beginning of a stellar career. The event also was notable for Karrie Webb who made her debut as a professional.
In 1995 the championship moved to Yarra Yarra Golf Club in Melbourne, where it was to remain until 2002. The championship was played in November and culminated in an exciting three-way play off between defending champion Sorenstam, Karrie Webb looking for her first victory on home soil, and Swedish star, Liselotte Neumann , all of whom finished with a 72-hole score of 283. Neumann finally prevailed on the third play-off hole. The prize fund was $250,000 and the event attracted several overseas marquee players.
The 1996 championship, with a purse of $300,000 was Holden’s final year of sponsorship. Scotland’s Catriona Matthew won the event with a total of 283.
In November 1997 Toyota took up the sponsorship opportunity, and the championship was won by Jane Crafter, one of Australia’s most popular and enduring players. She took command from day one with a blistering 8 under par, 65, and her 279 total prevailed by three.
AAMI became the major sponsor of the Women’s Open in 1998- a relationship that would continue until 2003- and with a prize fund of $350,000, New Zealand’s Marnie Maguire followed up a successful year on the Japanese circuit with victory here. Her four round total was 280.
Due to a change of date from November to February the Open was not played in 1999.
It resumed in February 2000 at Yarra Yarra Golf Club, and what a championship it was! Co-sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour for the first time, there was a capacity field of 156 players from around the world. In a last day shoot-out with Laura Davies and Rachel Hetherington, Karrie Webb finally held aloft the Women’s Open Championship Patricia Bridges Bowl. With rounds of 71, 66, 69 and 64 (270) Webb finally shook off the determined Hetherington with a chip in for an eagle three on the 70th hole. Hetherington shot 70, 70, 68 and 65 (273) and Davies 69, 70, 70 and 66 (275).
In 2001 Sophie Gustafson became the third Swede to take out the title defeating Karrie Webb by one stroke, following in the footsteps of Annika Sorenstam and Liselotte Neumann. She shot 276 with rounds of 70, 69, 66 and 71. The prize fund increased to $400,000.
Karrie Webb regained the trophy she had won two years earlier, defeating Norwegian Suzann Pettersen on the first play-off hole in another classic finish. Although inclement weather dampened most players’ ability to score low, Webb and Pettersen ended the event eight strokes clear of their nearest rivals on 278. Yarra Yarra’s seven-year run as Open host finished here in 2002. The prize fund reached a sizeable $500,000 for the first time.
In 2003 Terrey Hills Golf & Country Club hosted the AAMI Women’s Australian Open, returning to Sydney after a 25-year break. Scotland’s Mhaire McKay shot scores of 72, 67, 71 and 67 for a total of 277. England’s Laura Davies was second and Australia’s Rachel Teske third.
The 2004 AAMI Women’s Australian Open had an increased prize fund of $550,000 and was held at Concord Golf Club in Sydney. The final round was not completed until the Monday morning due to weather conditions. Laura Davies finally won her first Australian Open with scores of 68, 68, 77 and 70 (283) by a runaway six strokes. Australia’s Rachel Teske finished second with 73, 71, 71 and 74 (289).
The Women’s Australian Open was not held in 2005 or 2006.
The MFS Women’s Australian Open will be held in 2007 at The Royal Sydney Golf Club from 1st – 4th February 2007 with a prize fund of $550,000.
Including the fantastic support and commitment demonstrated by MFS, Golf Australia also acknowledges the support of the New South Wales Government, Fisher and Paykel, and The Royal Sydney Golf Club for the 2007 MFS Women’s Australian Open.