Prize money is the big talking point at the Women's British Open, so we sent Madeleine Winnett out to find out what people are saying

According to Abba, “Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world”. But it seems that money isn’t a laughing matter when it comes to women’s sport.

When I first heard the news that sponsors AIG and the R&A were increasing the prize money for the Women’s British Open by 40 per cent, my immediate reaction was, “Wow!” That is an astonishing injection of money.

The overall purse has gone up to $4.5 million – around £3.7 million – with the winner pocketing £520,000. I knew I should have spent more time on the practice ground…

That all sounds wonderful and like a very positive move, but then the feeling is slightly tempered by the fact that Shane Lowry wandered away with a cheque for more £1.5 million after his four rounds at Royal Portrush.

With a total prize fund at the Open of well over £8 million, it shows that equality in golf still has a long way to go.

At Woburn, when I asked unsuspecting spectator Jeff Shervington what he thought of the money divide, he said: “In the days of equality, it should be up there, but the pull of the men’s game in terms of numbers means it probably isn’t.”

Jeff is a keen follower of both men’s and women’s golf and has attended both Opens. So when I told him exactly what the difference was, he was surprised.

“I think the gap should be narrower than that. You can definitely learn more from the ladies when you go to watch them, such as how smooth their swings are.” he told me.

At Wimbledon, both the men’s and women’s winners receive the same prize money, £2.35 million, despite the fact that women only play best of three set matches, and men play best of five.

This was argued for years as a case for inequality, but the argument was overridden. In golf, no such inequalities apply. Both sexes play the same number of rounds, so why are ‘we’ still very much the poor cousins?

When I bumped into Vicky Cuming, manager of last year’s winner Georgia Hall, as well as Charley Hull, Catriona Matthew and Laura Davies, she was both suitably optimistic and realistic.

“It is a really positive gesture by AIG and the R&A,” she explained. “It is a move in the right direction and the players are hugely appreciative.

“It is unrealistic to expect equal prize money at this point like they have at Wimbledon, because we won’t get equality until we get equal amounts of viewers. Sponsors just aren’t getting the same value, but they can certainly put the money up.”

On the other hand, Jenny Gallacher from Leicester thinks the women “should be getting the same money as they do at Wimbledon”.

She added: “Golf is more like for like than in tennis, so I don’t know why the prize money is so much less. The ladies game needs more promotion worldwide. Ladies football got more promotion and now that has really grown.”

While I’m on the subject…

Equality at clubs doesn’t really seem to be an issue at all now. It has just become an accepted norm. However, the portrayal of women’s golf does not seem to have entered this new world of equality at all. And this is where the whole fundamental problem stems from.

I applaud every single sponsor of a women’s golf event, because you do so without getting anything like the publicity you deserve. Where is the incentive to back an event if it is almost treated like a state secret in the media?

In the good old days, The Telegraph used to be marvellous at covering the women’s tour events as well as the men’s. In the era of Lewine Mair and Sue Mott, they also wrote about amateur news and county golf. Even I have made it onto the back pages in small writing! Now, unless there is a scandal, women’s golf is virtually non-existent.

The Ryder Cup is written about ad nauseam for more than a year before the event. At the last Solheim Cup, even lady members at golf clubs didn’t know it was happening until it arrived. Even then, they were allocated half page spreads compared with four, five or six given to the men.

How can we ever expect sponsors to fork out equal prize money when the media is so determined to ignore women’s golf?

Golf media has to change. Golf magazines and websites should be aimed at golfers as a whole, not men or women. The overwhelming majority of golf magazines are written by men for men and this is where the problem starts.

It is time that women writers and women’s news were integrated into male golf magazines. I don’t mean squeezing them into a tiny subsection at the end, as an afterthought, like the majority of clothing sections in pro shops. I mean natural integration.

Yes, the number of women at clubs is dwarfed by the number of men, so there will be more male orientated subject matter. But why can’t women writers offer their opinions on the golf topic of the day? Why can’t a smaller section of women’s club reviews be added to the men’s? Why shouldn’t readers be made aware of news and players on the women’s tour as well as the men’s?

Once we scrub the gender stereotyping at the heart of the industry and start talking about ‘golf’ in all its facets as the norm, then the sponsors will be more interested in coming on board.

More sponsors, and bigger sponsors, will mean more prize money. And that in turn will hopefully narrow the gender pay gap even more.

Madeleine Winnett

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