Earlier last week I read an article online proudly boasting that the prize money at all four of this year's men’s majors were the highest they’ve ever been. “Hmmm”, I thought to myself, “I bet we can’t say the same about women’s majors.”
By Charlotte Ibbetson
Well, I’ll eat my words.
Shortly after that, The R&A announced that the prize fund for this year’s AIG Women’s British Open will increase to US$4.5 million – an increase of almost 40%.
“Hoorah” we hear echoing around the industry. Is this the sign of change we’ve been desperately but oh-so-patiently waiting for, and indeed, is it enough?
Taking place at Woburn from 1 - 4 August, the AIG Women’s British Open now offers the second highest prize fund of the five Major Championships in the women’s game, the highest being the US Women’s Open (with a prize fund that tots up to $5.5 million). The increase will see the winner take home a first prize of $675,000.
Let’s compare it to the men. The prize money at The Open this year has increased to a meagre $10.75 million, with the first-place pay-out being just over $1.9 million. It’s the smallest purse of all the men’s majors, but we’re fairly sure the victors won’t mind.
Despite the women’s shiny new pot of cash equalling less than half of what the men will earn in their equivalent tournament, I am still so (so, so) encouraged by the announcement. It doesn’t get close to matching the men’s prize fund, but nor do I think it should at the moment. I’m all for equality, and I’ll always be the first to defend anything that opposes the rights of women, but I firmly maintain that when we compare the men’s game vs the women’s, we’re not really comparing apples for apples. Sponsorship, TV coverage, fan base – the women’s game just isn’t on par, not yet anyway.
What it does do though is prove that times are changing, and whilst there might not be an opportunity for women to earn the same amount of money as the men, the game certainly demands the same amount of respect.
What I found most encouraging was Martin Slumbers comment, suggesting that this isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan idea, but rather it’s the first stage of a much wider and much-needed strategy:
“This is an important first step and we know it will take time to move closer to achieving parity with the men’s game. We will continue to work toward the long-term goal of a sustainable business model, but we can’t do it alone and the support of fans, sponsors and media are all key to achieving that success.”
Off the back of the England women’s success at the World Cup and Wimbledon headlines being dominated by female tennis players, the spotlight of the sporting world sits firmly on women at the moment – and for once I think that women’s golf might be hopping on the bandwagon. There really hasn’t been a better opportunity to grow the game and get more women and girls into golf.
The huge increase in prize money is a crucially important first step for women’s golf. Whilst there’s still some way to go before we really see the gender gap closed to an acceptable point, I for one will wait in hopeful suspense to see how the rest of this year unfolds. Good things are coming.
Image credit: Andrew Redington / Staff / Getty Images