Boasting a $5 million prize fund and a star studded field - here's why this week is a big week for women's professional golf
This week marks a significant moment for the Ladies European Tour (LET) and women’s golf as a whole. The Aramco Saudi Ladies International will take place at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia with a prize fund of $5 million.
There are a few reasons why this is significant. Firstly $5 million, an increase of $4 million from last year, means that the event is offering equal prize money to the men’s equivalent, the PIF Saudi International.
Equal prize money is something that golf is striving for and whilst this isn’t the first case of it happening, with the Australian Open, Vic Open and ISPS Handa World Invitational all great examples, the money involved is much larger.
Secondly, this is the biggest prize fund outside of the majors on the LET. But unlike its other big paying events like the Women’s Scottish, Scandinavian Mixed and ISPS Handa World Invitational, this event is not co-sanctioned. This in my mind elevates the LET in its own right – rather than it requiring the help from its strategic partner tours.
Thirdly, apart from the CME Group Tour Championship and majors, this is the biggest prize fund for any LPGA Tour players taking to the greens this week.
The day before the $5 million purse was announced, the LPGA had shared that THE ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican would feature a tournament purse of $3.25 million. The LET now boats a more lucrative stand-alone event than its American big sister.
It was somewhat ironic that announcements came within a day of each other in November 2022. In women’s golf you wait a long time for these sorts of stories and two came along at once.
Putting THE ANNIKA tournament aside, what was interesting to me was the way in which the Aramco Saudi Ladies International was received.
Why was the Aramco Saudi Ladies International announcement significant?
The relative stone-cold silence that is the mark of the majority of golf media regarding women’s golf is nothing new but even a story as big as this couldn’t get fingers typing.
Why was it big? Why was it significant?
Three weeks prior on October 17, The New Yorker had published a piece on LIV Golf in which they had quoted LIV Golf Managing Director and Golf Saudi CEO Majed Al Sorour* saying:
“For now, the majors are siding with the Tour, and I don’t know why,” Sorour said. “If the majors decide not to have our players play? I will celebrate. I will create my own majors for my players.” He went on, “Honestly, I think all the tours are being run by guys who don’t understand business.”
Of course, articles were published across the golf world talking about the fact that LIV Golf’s potential next move would be to create their own Majors. Many social media users were also quick to comment on the cheek of it all. A statement from Sorour and Golf Saudi followed:
Saudi Arabia creating their own Majors, almost seems as far-fetched as creating a breakaway league…oh wait...
Maybe the media silence was because the sheer volume of money in the men’s game has made many desensitised and unaware of the significance of a $5 million prize fund in the women’s game. Let’s face it Scottie Scheffler won $3.6 million from a $20 million purse at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week.
At last year’s Chevron Championship, the first Major of the season, Jennifer Kupcho won $750,000 from a $5 million prize fund. The KPMG Women’s PGA doubled its prize fund from $4.5 to $9 million. The Evian boosted its prize total to $6.5 from $4.5 million in 2021.
Does anyone see where I am going here? The winner of this year’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International will win $750,000 from a $5 million prize pot. The same as Kupcho received for winning her first Major championship less than a year ago.
Creating their own women's Major?
I am probably pushing it too far to say that Golf Saudi are looking to create their own women’s Major but the announcement certainly elevated their tournament to Major status. Something that I believe is newsworthy and ripe for discussion. Especially following on from The New Yorker article which caused much debate.
This week will see 15 of the World’s top 30 players in the field. Only one of those fourteen is a regular player on the LET, the others play the majority of their golf on the LPGA. This is how big this event has become and who knows what next year will bring.
There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia’s investment in women’s golf has had a positive impact on the Ladies European Tour and its players. This event and the Aramco Team Series are great examples of how women’s tour events should be run – having attended the ATS at Centurion, the set-up really is superb.
However, with all the furore that follows the men’s game with the battle between LIV Golf and the PGA/DP World Tours and the anger about where the funding comes from, why does this blatant grab at owning women’s golf go untalked about?
Even if, as many comment, women professional golfers don’t have much choice, it would be good to have a debate about it rather than the general silent indifference that continues to surround it.
For those still not with me, this week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International is the equivalent of a Rolex Series or PGA Tour elevated event in the context of the other events on the schedule. It’s a big deal, it’s a big moment and we should be talking about it.
*Majed Al Sorour was replaced by Noah Alireza as CEO of Golf Saudi on January 29, 2023.
What are your thoughts on this week's Aramco Saudi Ladies International? Drop me an email.
Could a LIV Golf league for women be closer than you think? Find out more.