Thursday night is draw night at Whittington Heath Golf Club and as I left the club a few hours ago, on a dark and stormy night, without any winnings (although my dancing partner was £150 richer!), I started thinking about Australia. Not only is it likely to be warmer there but there’s some high-quality women’s golf going on, with more to come in the next couple of weeks.
Trouble is, looking at the schedules, down under is all asunder. The words that spring to mind, to an observer who is much more distant than she once was, are the usual ones: money (or the lack thereof), politics, turf wars, egos undoubtedly. It’s all too bitty and split when the women would surely benefit from everything being better organised and connected, with at least a suggestion of being thought through and joined up. Ah well, cloud cuckoo land is as good a place as any to go walkabout.
The current tournament, the RACV Gold Coast Challenge at Royal Pines, is under the auspices of the ALPG (Australian Ladies Professional Golf), so it’s fairly small beer but it does at least have Aditi Ashok, the young Indian who is showing signs of being a proper player, leading the way. She led after a hot and humid first round, alongside local amateur Karis Davidson, who has the example of fellow Queenslanders like Karrie Webb, Greg Norman, Wayne Grady, Corinne Dibnah and Ian Baker-Finch, to mention just a few of a long, distinguished line, to inspire her. Michele Thomson, a Scot from Aberdeen, where conditions tend to be different, completed the leading trio.
Royal Pines used to be a fixture on the LET (Ladies European Tour) schedule, with sizeable, enthusiastic crowds following the likes of Webb, Laura Davies and Japan’s Ai Miyazato but it’s no longer an LET event, for whatever reason.
The LET season starts next week, in Australia, at 13th Beach Golf Links at Barwon Heads on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, not too far from Melbourne. The event is the Oates Vic Open and is also sanctioned by the ALPG and the PGA Tour of Australasia, with the women and men playing in alternate groups on the same courses for equal prize money. Well done Golf Victoria! Let’s hope there’s some good, entertaining golf and the event becomes a fixture.
The next official LET tournament will be at Mission Hills in China in March, starting on St Patrick’s Day but the next event in Australia will be in two weeks’ time: the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide, billed as the second event of 2017 on the (US) LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) Tour. It was also on the LPGA schedule last year but it was No 2 on the LET (after the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open, which has also disappeared from the European list but pops up on the LPGA list at the end of September, with a new sponsor.) I hope you’re keeping up! Even allowing for complications, contractual or otherwise, something, somewhere, is not quite right.
If Europe, which has been the proving ground for so many players from the southern hemisphere over many years, is unable to keep the Australian and New Zealand Opens on its schedule, shouldn’t the alarm bells start ringing? Perhaps the bell tolls for the LET. Or perhaps not. It’s kept going against the odds since its inception, so who am I to worry about its future?!
There was good news from the Bahamas, where Mel Reid finished in a tie for 13th in the first event of her first full season on the LPGA Tour. Keep an eye on her this season. She’s been through a lot but is still standing, still swinging and still smiling. Professional sport is a wonderful way of earning a living if you’re good enough and keep well but it is unrelenting and can be very cruel. It’s also addictive and very seductive, constantly whispering saccharine nothings in your ear.
Brandie Burton, once the next big thing in American women’s golf, won a mere five titles, though two of those were majors, the du Maurier Classic (now defunct) in 1993 (when she won three times) and 1998. The Californian played on five Solheim Cup teams but her career was blighted by injury and she retired in 2010 and essentially gave up golf until last year. Wrist trouble, four back surgeries and a neck fusion will do that to you.
Burton is now 45 and eligible for the Legends Tour, so she’s venturing back onto the fairways and will be making her debut as a veteran in Arizona next month. Welcome back and good luck. Enjoy.