It’s not always easy to promote tournaments in the staid world of professional golf with well-trained media performers on the same old courses.
So when someone with the wisdom and experience of ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open tournament director Trevor Herden speaks his mind, it resonates.
When questioned about the progression of women’s golf, Herden’s words say everything about why this week’s tournament is rapidly becoming a flagship of women’s sport in this country.
Are they the equal of men, especially on a Royal Melbourne course that has had its way with so many of the world’s great players, regardless of gender?
“My word. There’s no doubt about that,” Herden said.
Herden, a worldwide tournament authority, opined that strength was now the only differential between elite male and female golfers; that the amount of backspin and length generated was greater for men, but that women were the equal in every other way.
“If you look at the stats, I would say the women are less erratic and I would have to say I think they’re more patient, and having watched a fair bit of them now, I think they adapt to a bad hole better than what a guy does.
“(Royal Melbourne’s revered architect Alister) MacKenzie designed the pin placements for boys and girls – it doesn’t matter.
“It’s on the wind and the speed of the greens that you’ve got to be careful. The game’s come a long way. They all just fire at the same pins now, there’s no easing off for anybody, it’s full throttle.”
The Royal Melbourne groundstaff have prepared the course brilliantly; in as pristine condition as in any of the other myriad tournaments that have made it a global phenomenon.
The big difference in comparison to when it first hosted the Women’s Australian Open in 2012 is that it will play almost 200m longer while the relatively-new Legend couch grass of the fairways — planted to slow the golf ball after the course was marauded by male professionals — has bedded down.
Current planning is based on the greens running at 11.2 on the stimpmeter – a far cry from the frightening speeds of which the course is capable.
And also an indicator of that change is the colour to which five-time and defending champion Karrie Webb referred in her interview today.
"My memory of playing here three years ago is that I was very uncomfortable playing on the greens because they were a blue-grey colour. I had trouble reading the greens because of the colour of them, and they're a lot greener than they were three years ago.
"I feel a lot more comfortable this time. I mean, three years ago it was my first tournament (of the season); this time I've got one tournament under my belt but also I feel like I know the course better than I did last time. Hopefully I look forward to a better performance than I did three years ago.''
The composite course is bound to provide a tough test, even if the winds stay away. "It's 200 metres longer and the fairways don't seem to be running out as much as they have done,'' said Webb. "I don't think there's any rain in the forecast so it might dry out a little, but I think they've changed the grass because it there's a bit more in it. It's not hitting the ground as hard, so it's playing longer. When we were here three years ago it was really windy.
"You notice the difference but we haven't had any wind yet. What won last time? (Three-under by Jessica Korda). We're all saying 'only three-under won last time and it's 200 metres longer', so it'll be interesting to see what scores are out there.''
A GUIDE TO THE 2015 OPEN
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lydia Ko (NZ) the world No. 1 player, a feat achieved earlier this year. At 17, a phenomenon of the sport.
Shanshan Feng (China) No. 4 in the world for a reason. Has won a major, the LPGA Championship, and 13 times as a professional.
So Yeon Ryu (Sth Korea) World No. 7 is always thereabouts. She lost in a playoff here in 2012 and has won twice on the LPGA Tour.
Karrie Webb (Australia) A five-time winner, she reeled everyone in on the final day last year and remains a top-10 world player.
Minjee Lee (Australia) Having her third start as a full LPGA member. Was in the final grouping last year before fading, but she is more mature now.
Catriona Matthew (Scotland) is a four-time LPGA winner and the 2009 Women's British Open champion.
Jessica Korda (USA) won here last time, in 2012, and has three LPGA victories to her name at just 22 years of age. In the top 20 in the world.
Charley Hull (England) already Europe's top player at 18 in 2014. Along with Ko, up with the top young players in the world.
Su Oh (Australia) Is a rookie professional but was tied-second in the Victorian Open and won the Ladies Masters in Queensland last week. Also knows Royal Melbourne well.
Na Yeon Choi (Sth Korea) The world No. 12, and a recent winner on the LPGA Tour who has rediscovered the game that took her to No. 1 in the world.
Royal Melbourne's composite course, a melding of 12 holes from the west course and six from the east, is playing at par 73 this week, stretched to 6173 metres. That makes it 200 metres longer than last time the Open was here, in 2012.
The par-four ninth hole (at 401 metres) and the 11th (380 metres) will play particularly tough.
The Legend couch fairways are cut at 11mm; the greens at 2.2 mm. The target speed is 11.2 on the stimpmeter.
The routing of holes on the composite has been changed since 2012, which was played on what became known as the 'Presidents Cup lay-out'. The routing has reverted to the original composite, meaning that the 18th on the east course is the actual 18th hole of the tournament course.
2014 Karrie Webb (Australia) Victoria GC
2013 Jiyai Shin (South Korea) Royal Canberra GC
2012 Jessica Korda (USA) Royal Melbourne GC
2011 Yani Tseng (Taipei) Commonwealth GC
2010 Yani Tseng (Taipei) Commonwealth GC
2009 Laura Davies (England) Metropolitan GC
2008 Karrie Webb (Australia) Kingston Heath GC
First tee-off is at 7.10am Thursday. Lydia Ko goes at 12.50 pm from the first tee with So Yeon Ryu and Charley Hull. Defending champion Karrie Webb tees off the 10th hole at 7.50am.
ABC (all four days)