GOLF

The Oates Vic Open 2018: Event for men and women a vision for the future

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Last week there were record prize funds for the Oates Vic Open. This event at Barwon Heads near Melbourne is not the biggest of tournaments but it carries an important distinction.

Men and women compete at the same time, on the same course and for the same prize money. There were two 144-player fields competing for £370,000 apiece.

World number 20 Minjee Lee, from Perth, took home the best part of £70,000 for her five-stroke victory, which counts on the Ladies European Tour, and Tasmania’s Simon Hawkes banks the same amount for his play-off win in the men’s version.

Hawkes now gains a place in this week’s World Super 6 in Perth, another innovative format, which will count on the European Tour.

Last week’s event in Victoria offers golf an attractive vision for the future. It is one of the few tournaments to recognise the sport’s ability to bring together both sexes under the same competitive umbrella.

“They do value the equality in both men and women’s golf together,” noted Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, who lay second on the leaderboard after the first round.

“I think a lot of tours and sponsors can learn from that. You see it in the tennis game, just watching tennis the last few weeks, the Aussie Open. I think that hopefully in the next few years it will get more like this.”

Woods stated that she would one day love to team up with her Uncle Tiger in a mixed professional event, but this Australian tournament provides separate contests for male and female pros.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods returned to action in December after recovering from back surgery

“I love the format,” Woods said. “It’s different from any professional event that we play. I think a lot of tours could learn from this format because it brings so many different fans to come and appreciate not only the men’s game, but the women’s game as well.

“From a player’s point of view, I love it. I love being alongside the men and from a fan’s perspective, it’s nice to get the best of both worlds.

“A lot of tours could take something from this, including the LPGA and PGA Tour and I’m hoping that in the next few years we can get a little something similar to this,” she added.

Britain’s Mel Reid, who was the women’s defending champion last week, is also a big fan of the concept. “I think that’s kind of the way that golf needs to go,” said the 30-year-old from Derby.

“There’s lots of equality chat going on at the minute all over the world and the prize money for the guys is obviously much more on the PGA Tour than the LPGA.

“I don’t find that very acceptable and so it’s nice to have a tournament where it is equal. It’s great for the girls and great publicity for us. I hope that the guys enjoy us being around as well.

“For me, there should be way more tournaments like this at the same venue. I think it would be fantastic for golf.”

Interestingly, it is the presence of the women that has driven the growth in Vic tournament prize funds. Top LET players were competing and last year’s Order of Merit winner Georgia Hall finished third.

Georgia Hall in action
England’s Georgia Hill finished tied 21st in the Dubai Ladies Classic in December

So stalwarts of the men’s PGA Tour of Australasia are the main beneficiaries while leading Aussie stars such as Jason Day and Marc Leishman ply their trades on the dollar strewn fairways of the United States.

“If these kinds of events can draw more people to the game through participation and sponsorship, it’s definitely a win for us as players,” said 2014 men’s champion Matthew Griffin.

“It obviously means we’re playing for a bigger prize like this year.”

While the women head to this week’s Canberra Classic, the men go to Western Australia for the second running of the Super 6 event in Perth.

Here they play a standard 54 holes with the top 24 qualifying for six-hole match play contests that decide the eventual champion on the final day.

Following Tyrrell Hatton’s withdrawal through a wrist injury, the charismatic Andrew “Beef” Johnston (check out his BBC interview with Colin Murray)has been added to the field, much to the delight of the organisers.

“Australia loves a larrikin, we love to embrace personalities that are talented, fun and that embrace the Aussie way of life,” said Gavin Kirkman, the boss of the Australian PGA.

“When you think of pro golfers who fit that mould, one player immediately comes to mind; Beef Johnston.”

It’s clear the Aussies are more than happy to harness personality to help drive their quest to keep golf innovative, progressive and fit for the 21st century. High summer down under seems to inspire innovation, even in a sport such as golf which still carries a reputation for being stuck in the past.

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