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At 9.30am on Friday morning at Gullane, the temperature was already in the 20s, there was barely a breath of wind and ten of the world’s 15 best players were either out on the course or preparing for the second round of the Ladies Scottish Open.
Put simply, you’d struggle to find a more perfect day to be a spectator at a golf event in the UK.
Yet, at the tenth hole, where major winners Michelle Wie, Sung Hyun Park and Catriona Matthew were about to tee off, there were just 13 people watching, above.
That’s the same Michelle Wie who, as a teenager, was one of most high-profile female sports stars in the world. Galleries follow her every move on the LPGA but, on this day, she was strolling the fairways of Gullane in relative obscurity.
Yes, it’s one group. On one hole. But, in continuing to follow the group for the next few holes, that number barely exceeded 30. Admittedly, more fans had filtered in by lunchtime, but it wasn’t anything worthy of witnessing the best female players in the world. Bear in mind, it was completely free to attend, too.
Sadly, this event failing at the box office isn’t new. The co-sanctioning was heralded as a new dawn, boasting a vastly improved field and a trebling of the prize fund, but one thing has remained constant… dismal crowds.
So, what’s the issue?
Well, there’s scheduling. Being the same week as the Senior Open at St Andrews was far from ideal and the fact that it immediately followed two weeks of men’s golf in Scotland – the Scottish Open and the Open – it could be argued that by the time the Ladies Scottish Open rolls around, we’re simply all golfed out.
Then, there’s TV coverage. On Sky Sports Golf yesterday afternoon, the Ladies Scottish Open had been relegated to the ‘red button’ in favour of the Senior Open.
For all of the initiatives and positivity surrounding women’s golf in a bid to increase participation, that sends out a pretty poor message.
The importance of role models and star names from the UK can’t be underestimated. Yes, the event attracted ten of the world’s 15 best players, but how many of them are household names to a European audience? The answer is not many.
The spectators that were there didn’t deviate too much from what would be classed as a traditional golf audience, either, with the most common demographic being men aged 40+.
That proves that you can promote as many fancy social media hashtags that you like, but until such a time comes that it connects with its intended audience, it’s not working. Because I doubt the target of these social media campaigns are men aged 40+.
Look, no one expected this event to be as big as the men’s Scottish Open two weeks earlier but there’s no denying that this was a poor reflection of everything the authorities are trying to get right with women’s golf.
After all, it was free-to-attend, in a golf rich part of the world and just 20 minutes from the country’s capital. It’s a huge concern given that there’s a Solheim Cup in Scotland just around the corner.
So, this week signals Women & Girls Golf Week – an online campaign coinciding with the RICOH Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes to celebrate the successes of women and girls in many different roles in golf and to challenge misconceptions.
But one of the biggest challenges for authorities, it seems, is to convince the British golfing public that women’s golf is an excellent product to watch. It is in the States, with some regular season LPGA events commanding attendances close to 50,000 for the week. At Gullane, it’d be lucky if it was 20% of that.
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