Sherri Steinhauer’s victory at the Sybase Classic and UCLA’s national championship weren’t the only big stories in women’s golf this past week.
On May 20, the Ladies Golf Union announced that the 2007 Weetabix Women’s British Open will be staged at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Later that day, at the inaugural World Congress of Women’s Golf, LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw delivered news that the five professional women’s tours have agreed to devise a world ranking system similar to the Official World Golf Ranking used by the men’s International Federation of PGA Tours. Joining the LPGA in administering the ranking are the Ladies European Tour, the LPGA of Japan, the Korean LPGA and the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Tour.
Votaw characterized the Women’s British Open’s ability to secure the St. Andrews venue as “another signal of the continued growth and advancement of women’s professional golf in the marketplace.”
The LGU is 111 years old, with offices in St. Andrews – a mere 100 yards from the storied Old Course links. Yet the Women’s British Open has been staged only since 1976. It became an LPGA event in 1994 and gained “major” status in 2001, prompting efforts by the LGU and title sponsor Weetabix to add the Old Course to a championship rota that already includes Sunningdale (July 29-Aug. 1), Royal Birkdale (2005), Royal Lytham & St. Annes (2006) and Turnberry (TBD).
“The Old Course at St. Andrews is the best-known golf course in the world,” said Votaw. “By virtue of that fact, it will likely bring more fans to watch the greatest women golfers in the world than ever before for a single event.”
As for the ranking system, much work remains to be done in the next seven months. The five tours only have agreed to collaborate on a ranking system; the next step is to devise one.
“It’s expected that the final version is going to share the men’s (Official World Golf Ranking) philosophy of awarding points based on the strength of field and evaluate player performance over a two-year period to establish that ranking,” said Votaw.
He said the criteria and mechanics of the ranking will be determined by a “governing board” made up of representatives from the five tours and organizations such as the International Golf Federation and the LGU.
Votaw said the tours considered using the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index as its official ranking, but rejected it in favor of developing a system that’s consistent with the one used by the men’s tours. He said the Golfweek/Sagarin ranking likely will be one of several criteria used to establish the “baseline” ranking that will debut early in 2005. The 24 teams in the inaugural Women’s World Cup in South Africa in February will be selected via the new ranking.
The Official World Golf Ranking for men has had several iterations since it was introduced by IMG in 1986. It became independent of IMG in January 2004 and Votaw said the OWGR likely will have a role in the administration of the new women’s world ranking.
The St. Andrews and world ranking announcements set the stage for the first World Congress of Women’s Golf at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The three-day conference drew 111 attendees, including representatives of 33 golf organizations from 19 countries. It marked the first time that the leaders of the five tours – Votaw, Hisako Higuchi (Japan), S. Kyu Hong (Korea), Ian Randell (Europe) and Warren Sevil (Australia) – had met together in the same room.
The Congress included general sessions on the state of women’s golf worldwide, player development and television, plus workshops on fan development, market research, selling sponsorships, tournament development and professional development. Ruth Ann Marshall, president of the Americas, MasterCard International, was the keynote speaker.
“We have a board meeting next month, and I’ll be able to go back and tell them what’s going on in the world,” said Federica Dassu, the national coach for the Italian Golf Federation.
Votaw said the next World Congress likely will be held in early 2006 in the United States, continuing every 18 months, which would place the third gathering at St. Andrews during the 2007 Weetabix Women’s British Open.
The consensus among participants was that the most beneficial aspect of the first Congress was the opportunity to network with their counterparts from around the world.
“Apart from the content, the best part of it was the feeling of all of us being there with a common goal,” said Australia’s Sevil. “I put a lot of faces to names this week.”
During a ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange on the last evening of the Congress, the late Mark McCormack was honored as the first recipient of the International Ambassador of Women’s Golf Award. As founder of the sports marketing giant IMG, McCormack was among the first to capitalize on the appeal of women golfers when, in the early 1970s, he signed Nancy Lopez and Laura Baugh. Many of today’s biggest stars on the LPGA, including Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak, are IMG clients.