Guest columnist Dr Ali Bowes expresses her frustration that there isn't more live coverage of the women's game.
Image: Getty Images
In September 2019, the sixteenth edition of the Solheim Cup was held at the self-proclaimed home of golf, Gleneagles in Scotland, 29 years after the inaugural tournament was hosted in Florida.
The tournament was a huge success, the drama coming down to the last hole, on the last match left out on the course.
We all know what happened - Europe’s Suzann Pettersen holed a birdie putt on the 18th green to take an unexpected victory for Europe. The event was considered one of the closest of all time, with renowned women’s golf journalist Ron Sirak proclaiming ‘you’d have to search far and wide to find a more dramatic finish anywhere in the history of sports’.The event attracted more than 90,000 spectators to the golf course – making it the highest attended women’s golf event ever held in the UK – and was aired live on Sky Sports, with the BBC broadcasting one-hour highlights programmes after each day’s play. At this point, it seemed that elite women’s golf was on the up.
The lack of live television coverage is only one of the struggles for professional women’s golf in Europe, but a significant one. Poor visibility has long been one of the things contributing to the dwindling schedules and prize funds on the Ladies’ European Tour, scaring off sponsors in the already highly saturated commercial sports market. The struggles of the LET has not been a secret, and its professionals have highlighted it’s been a tough job to have. However, 2020 saw the launch of an LET-LPGA merger, with the increasing success of the American-based tour opening the possibility to support European Women’s golf. Again, it seemed that elite women’s golf was on the up.
Then COVID-19 hit, and thepandemic had a dramatic effect on sport. A global lockdown prevented live sport from taking place for months across the globe. Golf became one of the first sports to make a comeback - albeit with no crowds - and the leading male golfers in the world on the PGA teed off on June 11 at the Colonial Country Club in Texas. The men’s European Tour hope to restart on the July 9 at the Austrian Open but the leading women on the LPGA won’t tee off until the July 31, and the Ladies European Tour will not be returning until the Ladies Scottish Open on the August 13.
So, elite female golfers in the UK wanted competitive golf and thankfully the recently formed Rose Ladies Series developed a eight-tournament competition to be held across England, supported by Justin Rose. The fields for the first three events have included Major winner Dame Laura Davies, LPGA winners Charley Hull and Bronte Law, and a host of past LET winners. The Series is undoubtebly a brilliant thing for women's golf, but due to restrictions in place for COVID-19 it has been very difficult to broadcast any live coverage of the tournaments. This has naturally left us, as women's golf fans, desperately wanting to see more of the action as our favourite players battle it out.
I wrote in The Conversation a couple of weeks ago that research indicates women’s sport receives approximately four percent of the sport media coverage, rarely shifting over 10 percent despite fluctuations seen during exceptional moments such as the Olympics. Although my research has found when women compete against men in golf, there is an increase in media visibility, too often women’s sport is pushed to the margins when it comes to media coverage. The global sport lockdown this spring could have provided the perfect opportunity to rebalance the gender inequality in sport media coverage.
Now, of course we biased, and would naturally love to watch every women's tournament from the comfort of our sofas if we could, but we can't help but wish these talented women got more time on our television screens.
The Rose Series has been fantastic - let's not forget that, and how unexpected a men's Major champion's involvement was when Justin Rose and wife Kate put up the money for it. What's more, we're hearing promising rumours that the final of the Rose Ladies Series will have a longer programming slot on Sky Sports. That would be a deserved grand finale for this uplifting event - we just hope that this momentum will keep on building and building.
About the author
Dr. Ali Bowes is an author, researcher and lecturer at Nottingham Trent University specialising in the sociology of women’s sport. Some of her published research focuses on women’s golf, specifically on media coverage, experiences of professional women golfers, and on events such as the 2019 Solheim Cup. She is currently on the production team for a documentary on women’s golf.
Original article amended by Women & Golf
For more about Dr. Ali Dowes visit her Twitter profile @DrABowes.