Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Ladies European Tour needs a facelift in order to fight against the gender pay gap in golf – this week’s Jordan Mixed Open will be a stepping stone towards that

Posted on 3 April 2019 by Emilia Ottela

The first quarter of 2019 has come to its end. At this point, it is a good time to analyse the progress (if any) of professional golf through the lenses of equality.

The game is the same. The equipment is the same. The rules are the same. The money is not.

Marianne Skarpnord is the leading player on the Ladies European Tour (LET) money list. In the four tournaments she has played this season, she has earned €56,939. Shane Lowry, the leader of the European Tour (ET) Race to Dubai ranking, has received more than 20 times that prize money.

During the last few years, the LET has struggled to fill its competition calendar due to lack of sponsors and money.

‘As a player, I cannot pay too much attention on that fact that we are receiving far less money than men,’ comments Noora Komulainen, a Ladies European Tour player.

Noora Komulainen, Photo credit: Tristan Jones

‘Of course, sometimes I get angry when thinking about the huge gender pay gap in golf. At the same time, I feel that the men’s European Tour has managed to build up a very good brand and they deserve the success. The Ladies European Tour needs to improve its brand as well to be able to attract a bigger audience, and through that bigger sponsorships,’ she continues.

Golf is not the only sport which is struggling with inequality. In history, we have seen incredible fights against the pay gap within sport. The issue has been a hot topic recent years, but no matter how much attention is paid to this struggle, there are no women amongst the world’s 100 highest paid athletes on the Forbes 2018 list. This was the first time since 2010 that not a single woman appeared.

In 2017, Serena Williams was the only woman who fought her way onto the list.

When looking back in history, it is not surprising that it is a tennis player who is fighting against men in this list of glory.

In 1973, the Women’s Tennis Association was founded by a female player, Billie Jean King. She was the woman who initiated the fight against the gender pay gap and for a more equal world of sport.

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Back to golf.

On Sunday 10th of March, Meghan Maclaren and Justin Harding raised the winner trophies of the female and male European Tours. Maclaren travelled back home with a cheque for €14,048. Not surprisingly, Justin Harding got almost 20 times that. Unfortunately, this wasn’t even the biggest gap in this season so far.

This week, the professional golfing world will make history. The Jordan Mixed Open will be the first ever event where women and men will be playing for the same prize money. This inaugural tournament will be a joint effort of the Ladies European Tour, the European Challenge Tour (CT) and the Staysure Tour (ST).

Komulainen will be one of the 123 players in the field. There will be 40 players from every tour, plus three top amateur players. The competition will be played in mixed groups and the only difference between women and men will be that the course will be approximately 1000 yards longer for the CT players than for the ladies.

‘The competition will differ so much from the competitions I had played so far in my career that it is even hard to say, if it is going to be a successful format of a tournament or not. But I think it is incredible that in such a traditional sport as golf is, we have courage to break the old-school rules and try this kind of an event.’

Komulainen is hopeful that women will show their skills during the three-day tournament and will be fighting for the top positions alongside men on Saturday afternoon. Komulainen sees this event as a stepping stone for the LET and hopes that this will improve the image of ladies’ golf to a wider audience.

Last week, the BBC wrote about the tournament and excluding a very few positive comments, the article got people to share their feelings in extremely negative and sexist way:

‘Why don’t they allow children to enter the competition as well. They could start from just off the greens. There would then be even more inclusion,’ an anonymous user ‘Insight’ commented. This was just a tip of the iceberg.

Hopefully, the tournament will receive a lot of positive media attention and the LET can start its rebranding towards a successful and wealthy women’s golf tour.

The situation on the Ladies European Tour is not only poor when comparing it to the men’s tour. LET is losing its best players to the United States. When looking at the Ladies PGA tour (LPGA) calendar for this season, one would think that ladies golf is doing better than ever.

Indeed, that is the case when talking about the professional golf tour across the pond. This year, the players will play for $70.55 million on the LPGA. This is a record-breaking amount on a women’s golf tour.

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Mike Whan — the LPGA Commissioner — commented on the growth: ‘LPGA purses have steadily increased over the last decade, a sign of the growing support from our corporate partners and sponsors for the game of women’s golf.’

‘The good situation on the LPGA makes it even worse in Europe. All the best players are willing to compete in the USA, where the prize funds are almost at the same level than on the men’s European Tour,’ explains Komulainen to Sports Gazette.

The LET has struggled so much during the recent years that it is even controversial to say that it is still possible to play golf as a female professional in Europe.

‘I love this game so much that I cannot even think other options than to play as a professional. The love for the game makes me also wish that the situation will get better sooner or later.’

‘I have had to make sacrifices, but it is not an option to work alongside the golfing career. The level of the game is incredibly high despite the prize money remaining low,’ ends Komulainen.

At least, it seems that the LET is trying to boost its performance and it has the courage to try new concepts in order to keep ladies’ professional golf alive in Europe.