04 Feb 2022 | Vic Open |
A ripple felt throughout the world
by PGA of Australia
By Tony Webeck
Whether it was bravery or desperation – or a healthy mix of both – the 2012 Vic Open is a pivotal moment in the way golf began to address gender equality.
The men’s Victorian Open – once a coveted event on the PGA Tour of Australasia schedule boasting past winners such as Peter Thomson, Gary Player, David Graham and Greg Norman – was, for the second time, on the verge of collapse.
The Women’s Victorian Open had not been played at all for 20 years despite a successful five-year run from 1988-1992, its demise coming about by a combined drop-off in sponsorship and depth of female talent.
Any hope of a Vic Open revitalisation was predicated on something visionary yet its path forward was as simple as playing men’s and women’s championships concurrently on adjacent golf courses.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of that fateful decision to play the two tournaments side-by-side at Spring Valley and Woodlands golf clubs in Melbourne, the ripple of that toe being dipped into mixed-gender waters being felt throughout the world of golf for the past decade.
Although in 2022 the format appears such an obvious winning formula, golf at that time still lagged considerably in the way it had addressed gender inequality.
Many female members at golf clubs were considered ‘Associates’, in August that year Augusta National Golf Club admitted its first women members while the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was still three years from welcoming its first female member.
Yet it was January 2, 2012 – Monday of tournament week – that convinced long-time Golf Victoria administrator and the brainchild of the Vic Open as we now know it, David Greenhill, that the concept had merit.
“I knew the event had a good chance of working when I saw four young professionals, two men and two women, happily go to the first tee to start a practice round together,” Greenhill wrote in the 2019 Golf Victoria magazine.
From those humble beginnings the Vic Open grew under the spotlight of a golf world still largely hesitant about tampering with the game’s long-held traditions.
The Ladies European Tour came on board as a co-sanctioning partner of the women’s event in 2017, were superseded by the LPGA Tour in 2018 while the men’s event became co-sanctioned with the European Tour in 2019.
But beyond attracting global interest to its own event that has been staged to rave reviews at 13th Beach Golf Links at Barwon Heads since 2013, the Vic Open gave tournament golf promoters the world over the courage to follow their lead.
In 2018 the European Golf Championships introduced a mixed event for the first time and in 2019 the European Tour sanctioned a mixed gender event in Jordan that drew players from the Challenge Tour, Ladies European Tour and European Seniors Tour playing the same course for the one prize purse.
That year also saw the introduction of the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland played in an almost identical format to that employed at the Vic Open while last year – after a COVID-19-induced cancellation in 2020 – the Scandinavian Mixed hosted by Henrik Stenson and Annika Sorenstam was played for the first time.
That format was similar to the one used for the Jordan Mixed Open and which has been adopted with great success on the PGA Tour of Australasia the past 13 months.
The Webex Players Series debuted last January with events in Victoria and New South Wales and has since grown to four events this year, the ultimate aim to grow it to a 10-event series that culminates in a final and provides the backbone to the summer of golf calendar.
Talk in the past two years has expanded to consider a mixed format for the World Cup and the appetite for such inclusive showcases of golf’s true reach – incorporating disability, amateur and junior golf – has grown amongst government agencies and corporate sponsors.
The greatest ideas always appear so simple in hindsight yet it took a moment of inspiration and desperation to challenge the notion of what was acceptable in tournament golf. And provide others with the courage to accept it as the new normal.
The 2022 Vic Open will be played at 13th Beach Golf Links from February 10-13. Entry is free for spectators and all four days of the tournament will be broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo.
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