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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Equitable pay at the Opens is a good aim, but greater participation in golf by women is the important thing

Sweden's Anna Nordqvist took a record £600k winners cheque at Carnoustie.
Sweden's Anna Nordqvist took a record £600k winners cheque at Carnoustie.

You know the thing about long journeys. There’s always someone – not always the kids either – moaning “why aren’t we there yet?”

Last week the R&A really upped the ante on their renewed and enthusiastic backing for the Women’s Open. By next year’s championship at Muirfield they and sponsors AIG will have more than doubled the prizefund in just four years to $6.8 million.

The men’s Open in July paid out $11.5m. Why aren’t we there yet? Do we have a hope of getting there?

Slumbers at the forefront of the drive in women’s golf

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

Paying the women’s champions more money than a PGA tour autumn event should have always been incentive enough, but the driving force behind more money for the Women’s Open has clearly been R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

The merger of the R&A and LGU that led to them becoming the governing body for all of golf, male and female was engineered prior to Slumbers’ tenure.

But he’s definitely embraced the concept more than his predecessor Peter Dawson. In fact he’s put women’s golf front and centre of his development plan for the game.

As we’ve said many times in T2G, this is an absolute no-brainer. Golf has treated half the population disgracefully for the vast majority of 270 years it has been an organised sport. What’s done is done, but the game’s got an awful lot of making up to do to women.

And doing so is going to be crucial to the game’s future well-being. The more women and families – even in the 21st century, the two really go together – engage in golf, the better it is for our game. There’s a massive and largely untapped market out there – seriously, why wouldn’t you?

The importance of the Lethamhill project

Hence the drive in the women’s game, and in community golf projects like the investment in the £10m Lethamhill family facility in Glasgow.

I’ve been told this latter project was not easy to push through various R&A committees still stacked with the game’s traditionalists. But it’s a brilliant idea, and shows 21st century thinking has permeated some of the old crusties in the big house.

I imagine there’ll be a few old diehards who flinch at $6.8m for the Women’s Open too. But their day has obviously passed. Last week’s show at Carnoustie, even with slight remaining Covid-19 restrictions, showed that properly promoted and presented, this is a top quality event in all of UK sport, not just in golf.

Slumbers and AIG chief Peter Zaffino talked about “direction of travel” and the journey toward equal pay. There’s clearly a massive way to go, but there’s a will to attempt the trip, at least.

Profitability still matters

Last week I asked the chief executive about the prospect of equitable pay down the line. Slumbers said that underlying it all was the profitability of the Women’s Open – its appeal to fans, sponsors, broadcasters and its own earning power. The journey towards equitable pay would always be aligned to that, he said.

I’m sure there’s a little subsidy thrown in there too, but that’s okay – as stated above, golf owes some real affirmative action to the women’s game.

I’m of the view that we shouldn’t get too hung up about the pay gap right now. It’s a long journey to equitable pay, but it’s equally a long journey to build up the participation levels of women, and that demands our greatest attention right now.

Paying more money to the Women’s Open to add prestige and promotion is part of that. But projects like Lethamhill are arguably more important.

The need for star names to help

Stars help push the game forward, obviously. Louise Duncan may have arrived at a perfect time to carry the torch forward in Scotland.

I can’t think of an amateur who enthused a major championship like that since, well, probably Justin Rose in 1997 at the men’s Open at Birkdale. He turned out alright.

There were no Scots in the Solheim Cup team named by Catriona Matthew on Monday morning. Georgia Hall is the best known player from these islands. Leona Maguire, the Irish debutant, seems potentially the next major-winning talent.

But we need more. A long-overdue breakthrough from Charley Hull, or a surge from Bronte Law perhaps.

The appeal of star personalities was never better illustrated in a wonderful photo of a young girl’s reaction to meeting Lexi Thompson at Carnoustie. Inspiration can be greatest driver of all.

Carnoustie still the ultimate golfing challenge

The Championship Course at Carnoustie.

Carnoustie once again proved itself to be, to paraphrase Bobby Jones about a different (although nearby) place, a favoured ground for any contest of great importance.

The course is major championship standard just about 365 days a year. New champion Anna Nordqvist fondly recalled playing it on Boxing Day on summer greens and occasional mats. It’s possibly the best bunkered course on the planet. That finish remains the ultimate test of a potential champion’s nerve.

The links is happy to do heavy lifting for the R&A; the Open three times in 22 years, the Seniors twice and now the Women twice. Both amateurs have been played here. The boys and girls championships will be staged at the same time next year.

Two prominent US golf writers, in a spectacular show of utter snobbery, spent the 2018 Open staying in St Andrews and commuting. One reported later that there were rumours Carnoustie would be abandoned as a championship venue.

He listened to too much snotty gossip down the Jigger Inn one imagines. The Open will be back at Carnoustie before this decade is out. It would be an utter travesty otherwise.