By Mark Hayes
There wasn’t a women’s Victorian Open for two full decades from 1992.
Today, the women are playing for a share of $650,000 in one of the most innovative tournaments in world golf.
The progress is stark.
Amazingly, though, the revolution is as simple as it is pronounced.
It began in the offices of the ultra-progressive Golf Victoria. In some eyes, the state body took a massive gamble in 2012 by uniting men’s and women’s tournaments in one combined event.
The risk was not so much putting the kiss of life on the dormant female event, but rather would the burden of logistics and finances weigh down a men’s tournament that has an honour roll comparable to any great world event.
By any measure, the answer as we head into the seventh edition as a combined event is a resounding `No’.
The men’s purse has grown steadily and, with the receptive and influential PGA of Australia’s full support, embraced the once “radical” proposition.
The women’s purse, not coincidentally, has grown at an equal rate to the point where both purses are now the equal seventh largest in the entire Oceania region, on either side of the game.
Naturally, the entry lists reflect that, too.
But even more, since Golf Victoria switched the Oates Vic Open to regional 13th Beach in 2013, it has become a must on so many players’ schedules also because the Bellarine Peninsula offers a wide range of off-course attractions in the middle of an Aussie summer.
Gone, sadly, are the times when Australian male stars Jason Day, Marc Leishman and their overseas-based cohorts can neglect the millions on offer on the other side of the Pacific or wherever the European Tour sends them.
But the men at the next level are here in numbers, including several homegrown players who ply their trade in Europe and Japan.
And the reason is simple, even for them.
The Vic Open rocks.
The vibe of sharing a range, putting green, clubhouse and myriad functions between women and men is outstanding for all parties involved – not least of whom are the fans who clearly pick up on the relaxed, open nature of Golf Victoria’s masterpiece.
And you’ll never guess what has happened … so strong and engaging has the women’s field become that they are now the chief magnet for those fans.
Where once women were a quirky dessert, they are now the main course.
By definition and design, the principle of Golf Victoria’s plan – and that of the state government that helps bankroll the event – was that prizemoney be equally split among the genders.
But instead of that arguably once weighing on the men’s expectations, the success of the event and its ability to attract interest and sponsorship dollars because of its innovative positioning has meant those same men are now riding higher because of the women’s influence.
It’s a win – EVERYWHERE you look.
Victoria again has a thriving women’s championship; the cost of duplicating infrastructure is slashed; the marketing/media interest generated is enormous and, by extension, sponsor-luring; the governing bodies associated have forged better relationships; and, not least, golf finally has an event that is helping to shed its staid, backward tag.
I’ve covered Victorian Open golf championships for many years now. It has never been bigger, nor its future brighter.
As I write this, I’m about to go out and watch some of the world’s leading amateurs, plus pros from the LET, LPGA, ALPG, Japan Tour, Asian Tour, Australian PGA, European Tour and China Tour – all in the one place.
It’s a golf fan’s dream.
My only concern is: will I be able to get a good view of the golf with so many people expected here in Barwon Heads this weekend?
Then again, I needn’t fear because there are no ropes and I can walk alongside and behind some of the world’s leading players to get a unique perspective on championship golf.
Ahhh, the joys of innovation.