Vic Open puts men, women on equal footing and at many of the same tees

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: Golfers Geoff Ogilvy and Karrie Webb of Australia pose prior to the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Club on February 06, 2019 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images) Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Vic Open puts men, women on equal footing and at many of the same tees

Golf

Vic Open puts men, women on equal footing and at many of the same tees

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There’s much to praise about the forward-thinking Vic Open, which features men and women competing on the same course in Australia at the same time for equal prize money. The unique event isn’t new, but with the LPGA and European Tour co-sanctioning the tournament for the first time, it’s already receiving more attention worldwide.

One area of equality that seems a bit curious, however, is course setup. The Vic Open is played over two courses at 13th Beach Golf Links on Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria. The official yardage on the Beach and Creek Courses has the men and women playing from the same tees on 19 of 36 holes. A bit too equal in the minds of many.

The difference between the total yardage for the men and women on the Beach Course is 316 yards (6,796/6,480) while the Creek Course is 367 yards (6,940/6,573).

“Been a big topic,” wrote Kim Kaufman in a text. “They moved us back on both courses 300 to 400 yards. It has worked super well in the past the way it was. Not sure the rational but hoping/thinking we will be moved on a few. My woods got a workout yesterday.”

Kaufman went on to say that she wouldn’t think much of it if the men weren’t around. But because the men and women will be playing in alternating groups, their shots and scores will be stacked up against those of the European Tour players, and the women will be coming into the greens with longer clubs.

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: A general view is seen on the 1st hole prior to the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Club on February 06, 2019 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

The 1st hole at the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Club awaits both professional men and women competing for equal prize money this week (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

“I think we are used to playing courses where we hit a lot of woods,” said Kaufman. “But we know there will be a comparison, and they are setting us up for failure.”

Kris Tamulis, playing in the event for the first time, believes there will be a giant discrepancy in scoring if the women’s tees aren’t moved up considerably for competition.

“I’ve heard from so many girls who played prior years that it was a fun event and neat experience,” texted Tamulis, “but no one wants to start the year ripping long clubs into par 4s when the guys have a wedge.”

The distance gap between the genders is almost as vast as the pay gap every other week of the year. Former No. 1 Yani Tseng led the LPGA in driving distance last year at 275 yards. Only three players on the entire European Tour had a shorter average. In fact, 63 players averaged over 300 yards off the tee.

If the men’s yardage can’t be stretched back at 13th Beach, it’s perfectly fine to move the women forward even more to make the approach shots more equitable. The first round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic last year played to 6,103 yards.

“From the same tees the course I played yesterday (Creek), I was laying up with 3-wood to not hit it into fairway bunkers,” said Tamulis, “and the guys could just rip driver or fairway wood over the bunkers.”

Aussie Katherine Kirk also questioned the setup.

“The LPGA have said they will move tee boxes, but the bottom line is we will probably not shoot as low as the guys and in my opinion this won’t look good, especially when the ‘powers that be’ are trying to promote women’s golf and equal pay,” Kirk said. “If organizers and fans don’t mind that the men are playing a shorter course and make lots of birdies, then why can’t we women play a shorter course than usual?

“Furthermore, most LPGA events play longer than what the PGA Tour play and in my opinion if we ‘average’ 20 yards shorter than the men for each club and hit, let’s just say, 34 shots per round (supposing a par 72 with 2 reachable par 5s) then we should play courses at least 680 yards shorter than the guys. And we all know 20 yards per shot is on the low side.”

Defending champion Minjee Lee had a different take on Tuesday when asked about the yardage changes:

“Well, I’ve only played the Creek course so far and quite a few of the tees, we’re teeing off with the men,” said Lee, “so that’s pretty cool in its own sense. I think it will be a good test, just depends on the wind, I guess.”

When the men and women played in back-to-back weeks at Pinehurst five years ago, the official yardage for the men’s U.S. Open was 7,562 yards while the yardage for the Women’s Open was 6,649 yards.

During that fortnight in Pinehurst, the USGA collected data from caddies to help set up No. 2 in an equitable manner for both genders. USGA CEO Mike Davis told Golfweek back then that at Pinehurst there was about a 25-yard difference in terms of approach shots between the men and women. The average 5-iron for the men over seven days of data went 203 yards. The average 5-iron for women: 175 yards. The men hit 7-iron an average of 180 yards and the women, 156 yards.

When the NCAA Championships were held in back-to-back weeks last year at Oklahoma State’s Karsten Creek, the official yardage for the men was 913 yards longer than what the women faced the week prior.

It’s unclear what data was used when setting up the courses for the men and women this week. The Beach Course yardage is 255 yards longer than what was posted last year for the women, and the Creek Course is 305 yards longer. The Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG) could not be reached for comment.

The Vic Open, held Feb. 7-10, features a field of 156 players for both the men’s and women’s competitions. Both fields will be cut twice, with the top 35 players and ties competing over the Beach Course in the final round. Both tours are competing for a $1.1 million purse.

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