What lies in store for the women’s game?

By: Nick Bonfield | Mon 09 Jul 2012 | Comments


Women’s golf is arguably as exciting as it has even been. Taiwanese sensation Yani Tseng is well on her way to becoming the best golfer of all time, Britain is producing a number of future stars and the professional game has seen some high quality additions over the past five years. Add to that the close competition between Europe and America, increasing Asian influence and promising amateurs – such as Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko – and you would think the ladies game is in great shape going forward. Despite all the positives, though, many say it isn’t attracting enough investment or continued media attention to facilitate future growth. So, what lies in store for the women’s game?

Media attention

On the surface, lack of media attention seems hard to grasp. The 2011 Solheim Cup captivated a large audience, and was one of the most exciting sporting events of the year. Europe triumphed against the odds, with captain Alison Matthew leading the Europeans to glory. The event also introduced viewers to an array of new European talent, including Azahara Munoj, Christel Boeljon and Caroline Hedwall, whose vital half in her singles match with Ryann O’Toole helped secure an improbable victory.

 Despite such a brilliant victory, however, it was barely known to those outside of golfing circles. One of the main issues with women’s golf - as with most female sports aside from tennis – is a distinct lack of media coverage, which in turn influences degrees of sponsorship. European women had achieved the improbable and won the biggest event in ladies golf, but were only rewarded with a couple of lines in national newspapers. The European team was completely overlooked for the team award at the BBC’S Sports Personality of the Year, and capturing the cup was only voted 4th best moment of the golfing year by golf writers. How are we supposed to grow the game when ladies golf is given so little prominence? How many people outside golfing circles would have known that Great Britain and Ireland won the 2012 Curtis Cup against the odds? Very few. And yet it was one of the most significant golfing achievements in recent years, highlighting the immense future potential of women’s golf on both sides of the Atlantic.

Coverage

Television coverage is also an issue. Many people enjoy watching ladies golf as they feel they can relate more easily to the female game, where players rely more on tempo and accuracy than blasting the ball 300 yards off the tee. Having said that, coverage is near impossible to find if it isn’t a major, and is horribly under-funded. A lack of cameras means very few players are shown, with large amounts of air time filled with walking shots. There simply isn’t provision to spend money on additional cameras, statistics and others pertaining to production quality. Whilst the Golf Channel does a terrific job in supporting the LPGA Tour, coverage is weak and doesn’t find its way across the Atlantic, and the LET is rarely broadcast live.

Not all doom and gloom

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That being said, the signs aren’t all negative. Whilst the smaller tours, such as the Futures Tour, are really struggling for investment, the 2012 LPGA Tour schedule contains four more official money tournaments than last year. The LET also boasts a healthy 2012 schedule, with two more events than last year. This has partly been facilitated by investment from Asia, a continent that must be praised for its dedication to professional golf, both male and female. The economic crisis hasn’t affected the east like it has the west and, as a region, it has shown a real willingness to continually support the game.

Not only has this brought bigger prize pools, it also means a greater variation for players and viewers alike. “We have been able to offer our members a wide range of attractive playing opportunities at some of the world’s finest international venues,” said the Ladies European Tour’s executive director Alexandra Armas after the 2012 schedule was announced. “We are pleased with the schedule, particularly given the poor shape of the global economy, and these are exciting times for the LET.” The European Tour has become a better, more rounded and varied tour since the start of its expansion outside Europe; let’s hope the same will apply for the LET. Encouragingly, also, two new events were added in Sweden and England this season, proving investment isn’t just coming from the east.

Perhaps ladies golf isn’t in as bad a state as people believe, and the LPGA and LET schedules for 2012 are very encouraging. That being said, media coverage needs to drastically improve to accompany these improved schedules. One of the main issues is a perceived disinterestedness in the ladies game, which isn’t accurate. The game has seen some great moments over the past year, with an ever widening talent pool and huge future potential. Let’s hope the media start to realise the interest is there and start to support the tours. A 14-year-old winning a professional event is an unbelievable achievement, but how many people know it happened? The ladies game is as healthy as ever, we just need the media to give it some of the spotlight. If people are exposed to the game, I have no doubt they would retain an interest, and an interest in the top tier of the professional game can only benefit the ladies game as a whole. However, without increased publicity – which is unlikely, given reduced media budgets, lack of coverage and misconceptions about the popularity of female sport – ladies golf won’t make significant strides forward.

 


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