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Injection of funds - and fun - to cash in on women's golf upswing

Sport

Golf is looking to take advantage of the resurgence in women’s sport in Australia – with prize money for top female players higher than the men’s Australian Open.

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Television personality and self confessed golf tragic Kerri-Anne Kennerley and 10 Kerri-Anne lookalikes were on hand at Kooyonga Golf Club in Adelaide yesterday at the launch of the 2018 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Kennerley and her brightly dressed clones were there to send a message that golf needed an injection of fun to turnaround its fortunes and Australia’s biggest women’s tournament was a good place to start.

“We want to change some of the perceptions of golf being a very conservative, middle-aged sport,” she said.

“We are having fun with golf and we do need to get people onto the course with their kids, with their families to enjoy the brilliant sport that we know it is.”

The February 15-18 Kooyonga Golf Club event will be the third consecutive year Adelaide has hosted the tournament following successful weeks at nearby courses The Grange and Royal Adelaide.

Thanks in part to its status as a fully sanctioned LPGA Tour event, this year’s Australian Women’s Open at Royal Adelaide ($1.75 million/US$1.3 million) offered more prize money than its male equivalent held last month in Sydney (AU$1.25 million).

Golf Australia CEO Stephen Pitt said 2017 had been an amazing year for women’s sport in Australia and golf wanted to share in that success.

“We’ve seen the profile of elite women’s sport go through the roof and we’ve seen some really exciting innovations in women’s sport – the women’s AFL competition has been really strong, the Matildas and our Australian women’s cricket team have been real highlights over the past 12 months,” he said.

“The ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open from our perspective has been a great event for a long period of time, it’s always hosted the best players in the world and we’ve had a very fortunate occurrence where the prize money for our top female players is actually higher than the prize money in the men’s Australian Open.

“I think that’s a really strong achievement and a signal of how much we want women’s golf to succeed in this country.”

Pitt said Golf Australia had a strong belief in the need to grow women’s golf in Australia and there had been a lot of work being done to make this happen such as its Vision 2025.

“Back in the ’70s, 34 per cent of all golf club membership was female in this country but gradually that’s dropped away to about 20 per cent and we want to get it back up to where it needs to be.

“I think that needs to be a joint effort but we do see this event as being a cornerstone to achieving that.”

Aside from a chance to showcase Kennerley and her golfing clones, the launch was used to announce that Vegemite-loving South Korean So Yeon Ryu would play at the tournament in February.

The 27-year-old World No.3 spent almost half of 2018 as No.1 and has a strong Australian support base including her coach, caddy and physio.

Ryu is the second big name South Korean player to be confirmed for the February 15-18 event.

Tournament organisers announced in August that Ha Na Jang would return to South Australia to defend the Australian Open title she won at Royal Adelaide Golf Club this year.

An amazing finish including three birdies and an eagle in her final six holes landed Jang the Australian Open title in February, which she celebrated by eating a traditional Australian meat pie.

The presence of big names in women golf including Laura Davies, Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb, Lydia Ko and Jang attracted massive crowds to Royal Adelaide and global television coverage this year and led to the tournament being crowned Sport SA’s 2017 major event of the year.

Golf Australia will be hoping similar success in 2018 will not only get the turnstiles ticking but eventually result in more women playing.

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