By Harriet Shephard - Image: Getty Images
As you've probably noticed from my giddy social media posts last week, I was lucky enough to attend the 2020 AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon, and it was an experience I'll never forget.
Even with COVID-19 restrictions in place it still felt like a proper Major tournament and most importantly, it really hammered home what a brilliant time this is for women’s golf.
Having been out of working in the game for a couple of years, I last went to the Women's Open in 2017, and I can’t believe how much the game has grown in that short time. Actually, I can’t believe how much it has changed in the last six months.
We’re now having conversations that we would barely dream of having in 2019.
Muirfield is hosting the Women’s Open for goodness sake. Did any of us think we’d ever be able to say that sentence?
All of the most prestigious golf clubs in the country, with the stellar courses, could not be doing more to support the women’s game. It’s taken a little while, but that is definitely now the case.
Okay, I’m definitely in a happy bubble of positivity right now. I mean, how could I not be after immersing myself in a bubble with some of the world's best female golfers for a week, watching Sophia Popov's inspiring victory and seeing the players get the opportunity to showcase their skills on a global stage.
But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
With the Open being cancelled it was the biggest golf event to happen in the UK this year. It got lots of great media coverage too; one of my non-golfing friends messaged me during the final to proudly tell me "it's even on in the pub!" It was also available to watch for free on Sky Sports YouTube.
The positive conversations I had with various people from across the industry have only made me more convinced that women’s golf is about to experience a "perfect storm".
All our efforts from different areas are about to combine and women’s golf will absolutely explode.
I was sharing the media centre with chief golf writers from the nation’s biggest news outlets, and they all told me that coverage for women's sport (including golf) was being given far more of a priority these days.
This is great news, as the more the country reads about and watches women's golf, the more they'll love it.
As the week went on and I read more about Sophia Popov and of course watched her play, I became more attached to her. When she cried after her win, I cried.
I know so many of you at home felt the same, and that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t on TV or being covered by the mainstream press (and us, of course!). The players have such great personalities and stories, and these need to keep being highlighted.
They’re eloquent and intelligent too, and Meghan MacLaren’s new column in Today's Golfer is also helping all golf fans to realise that.
Added to this increase in coverage is that Justin Rose has set a trend for male golfers showing their support. Following the creation of his Rose Ladies Series, other super star golfers such as Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood have spoken out.
Plus, businesses are now looking for ways to promote inclusivity and diversity. You could go as far as to say that sponsoring a women's golf event now seems more appealing than sponsoring a men's.
The female pros – not used to the kind of exposure and riches in the men’s game - arguably provide better value for money than some of the men because of the time and effort they are willing to put in.
It’s AMAZING that AIG signed up to sponsor five more years of the Women’s Open during a pandemic. So many areas are struggling, but somehow women’s golf is still being invested in.
And just look at the clubs that have been secured. The bastions of the male game – Royal St. Georges, Muirfield and Royal Troon – are now hosting professional women’s events.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Oh, and obviously golf has had a huge surge in popularity thanks to COVID-19. According to Sports Marketing Surveys, 70 percent more golf was played this June compared to last and since lockdown eased figures from England Golf suggest that clubs have gained around 20,000 new members.
You see! It's all happening.
But while we can be thankful for what we are now getting, I think we aren’t being too greedy in wanting to push for more.
Let’s face it, in an ideal world the The Solheim Cup and the Women's Open wouldn't be the only tournaments that are heavily covered by some of the UK press.
The Telegraph did an amazing job with the Rose Series, but during the AIG Women's Open many news publications only gave it a small mention.
The satellite v terrestrial TV debate is another strand to this and an issue best left for another time but it’s clear there is more appetite for women’s golf than ever before.
And at club level there ARE still venues which are not especially welcoming to women (again a problem for a different blog).
Maybe it's the millennial attitude in me of always wanting more and the best of everything, but I think we should keep pushing until women's golf is treated as being just as important and exciting as the men's game.
And right now, this dream feels closer to being achieved than I can ever remember.
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