- Prize fund is $5.8m for the 2021 tournament in Carnoustie
- R&A’s Slumbers says announcement ‘sends a strong signal’
The Women’s Open has been handed a status and financial boost ahead of tee-off at Carnoustie with a $1.3m prize fund increase to $5.8m, making the tournament the most lucrative in female golf. On Sunday the champion on Scotland’s east coast will collect a cheque for $870,000 (£632,000).
Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, announced the fillip for this major championship with considerable glee on Wednesday. And no wonder: Slumbers promised the pot at Muirfield in 2022 will be at least $6.8m. Between 2014 and 2016, the purse had been fixed at $3m, with the winner’s share always less than $500,000. Slumbers has credited AIG, the event’s main sponsor since 2019, with helping to elevate its status.
“Together we are on a journey to increase prize money in a financially sustainable way,” Slumbers said. “Many of you will have heard me say many times that professional golf is a business. For women’s golf to close the gap with the men’s game, it requires greater investment and support from golf bodies, sponsors, the media and our fans to grow its commercial success, generating the income and the revenues to make prize-fund growth viable and financially sustainable.
“We believe that this action to make changes sends a strong signal that more needs to be done, and I believe can be done, by everyone involved in our sport.”
The US Women’s Open, played at the Olympic Club in June, had a $5.5m purse. It now remains to be seen whether the United States Golf Association responds to the R&A’s stance. “There should never be a race,” Slumbers insisted. “This is not a competition. This is about moving in a direction and everyone has got to move at their own pace. We have been fortunate with the team we’ve got, with the championship we’ve got, to be able to move at the pace that we want to move at.”
The elephant in this particular room relates to the R&A-administered Open Championship. Its latest prize pot of $10.75m is almost double what will be available at Carnoustie in the coming days. Slumbers was circumspect over whether or not financial parity between his male and female majors is a realistic goal.
“I’m a glass-half-full guy,” the chief executive said. “We have closed a huge gap over these few years, so I look at that as a positive. I think the direction of travel is here. But I remain consistently of the view that we need to build the financial wherewithal of women’s professional golf, particularly in our championship – I cannot talk for anyone else’s championship – and keep building the value of the sponsorship, the number of people who come to watch, the value of the media rights. If we are successful on that, then we’ll continue down this journey.”
With 8,000 spectators per day permitted at Carnoustie, much focus is on the world No 1 Nelly Korda. The recently crowned US PGA and Olympic champion opted not to undertake press conference duties before her first round, leaving others to discuss Korda’s current position. Catriona Matthew, Europe’s Solheim Cup captain, went so far as to say a long sequence of winning by Korda would represent another benefit to the sport.
“Without a doubt, she’s got that potential to be dominant,” Matthew said. “She hits it long. To be world No 1 you have to do everything well. If she can keep that form going, I don’t see why she couldn’t be dominant.
“I think it is good for women’s golf to have a dominant player. You saw how Tiger Woods elevated the PGA Tour. If you have someone that becomes dominant, she starts to be known by non-golfers, which then maybe encourages them to come and watch golf. So yeah, I think it would be a good thing.”
Not that Matthew is waving white flags in respect of an upcoming clash with Korda’s US team in Toledo. “For Solheim to have the world No 1 player, it’s a great thing,” the Scot said. “In match play, as we’ve seen in a lot of 18-hole events, anyone can beat anyone. Certainly all the pressure will be on her to beat our team.”