Karrie Webb wants to see mixed gender golf tournaments in all the Australian states down the track, copying the ISPS Handa Vic Open concept.
One of Australian golf’s wise elders these days, she is so enamored by the tournament, with its equal prizemoney to both men and women, that she wants it taken further afield.
Her comments follow US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy’s suggestion this week that it was “nonsense’’ that there were not more mixed gender golf tournaments around the world. The Vic Open begins tomorrow at 13th Beach as an LPGA Tour and European Tour co-sanctioned event and $3 million in prizemoney.
In Europe, there is a plan for a men’s and women’s tournament to be run by Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson in their native Sweden, but the Vic Open has largely retained its unique nature, first attempted at Spring Valley in Melbourne in 2012, and popularised since the tournament moved to 13th Beach in 2013.
“I think with this model … it would be great to see it replicated in all the state opens and have five, six, seven events like this around the country for guys and girls,’’ said Webb. “There's a little bit of money here for the guys, but there's not really that much for the girls (in Australia). You know if you're turning pro, you're going overseas. It would be nice to know that you can have some experience playing professional golf at home before taking that jump overseas.
“So if we could create that sort of pathway here in Australia so that the guys and girls have some tournament experience before they go overseas, I think it makes that next step or that jump in level that much more attainable than ‘I just played the Australian Amateur and now I'm going to LPGA Q School’. That's a huge step, a big jump forward in level of play.
“To be able to have that stepping stone would be huge for the pathway of golf in Australia. And they would be on TV more often, so more and more people will see golf and want to pick up golf. Kids will want to play, so it's a win-win.’’
Webb said golf was under pressure from other sports and in danger of losing ground if it did not move with the times. “You know, I was a sports mad kid, but all my sports heroes were men because there was no women on TV,” she said. “And one of my aspirations if I wasn't a professional golfer was to play cricket for Australia and that wasn't (available). I knew that even though women's golf wasn't a visible thing, I knew it existed, where women playing cricket for Australia was not. That wasn't visible at all when I was growing up.
“So I think of myself as a 10 , 11-year-old girl if I was watching TV now, would I have gone golf, you know? There's so many more options. So that's why golf has to create these pathways and create more visibility, so that we do keep up with these other sports that honestly have more income to allow these pathways for the girls. But yeah, we've got to step up our game as well.”
Another to back the concept was Stacy Lewis, the American who was so keen to play here for the first time that she made the difficult decision to leave her 15-month-old daughter Chesnee at home with family so that she could play.
“I think what we're doing this week is really important,’’ said Lewis. “I think … I hope this tournament sends a message across the world to ‘let's do more events like this’. There's obviously a lot of challenges with it. You have to have two golf courses and the facilities and all that kind of stuff, but I mean, I've had a lot of fun this week so far. I played a practice round with three guys yesterday and just doing it a little different than I normally do it.’’