After a huge fanfare at the start of the year, the mixed-gender, equal-purse World Invitational seemed to go somewhat under the radar. But, writes Emma Ballard, we can't rely on just one man to drive change

This week has been a turning point in women’s golf and not necessarily in the way that I had thought it would have been at the start of it. The anticipation of the World Invitational was high when it was announced in May. Not only were men and women going to be competing for the same prize fund, the event had the backing of Modest Golf and its co-founder Niall Horan. This alone had led the golfing world to believe that it would be a huge success.

It ticked the box for equality which we have long been fighting for and with a man who has more than 60 million followers across various social media platforms, the message was going to spread far and wide.

You see, the golf industry has somewhat of a love affair with Niall and it’s been many years now that he has been paraded around as the saviour of our sport. I wrote an article three years ago concluding that he was what the industry had been looking for.

So as the week started, I joked with a friend that we’d see article after article like this, fawning over Niall and his passion for golf but obviously being grateful that it would shine a light on the World Invitational and ultimately women’s golf.

By Wednesday it became clear that all the hype around the launch of the event and even having Niall as the figurehead for it wasn’t enough to garner more than a couple of articles.

I had visions of it eclipsing the Women’s British Open coverage after the way it had been talked about previously.

So I reverted to my usual position, like most other women’s golf supporters, of hoping that even though people were wrapped up with the BMW Championship at Medinah, there would still be some space for this innovative tournament.

And I think Niall did too, because as the World Invitational kicked off Niall told the press that had bothered to show up: “I don’t think we realise how big this week will be for golf.”

I now write this on Monday morning wondering what happened.

As I’ve already said, it had the perfect formula but it hasn’t been embraced by everyone. In fact it’s barely made a murmur.

Closer analysis of social media over the course of the tournament prove it was dominated by his fans. There were no in-depth discussions, not even the naysayers who are dead against achieving equality in golf were anywhere to be seen.

It turns out that after all these years of believing that just one person could have a big impact on golf, we come to realise that it’s not just about Niall and his vision. It requires all of us to fully embrace what women’s golf has to offer.

Women’s golf media coverage has been ruled by controversy and clickthroughs and, in my opinion, is not given the real coverage it deserves, but when a week’s potential social media activity was going to have a positive impact it’s come up short.

But never to be downtrodden, when it comes to women’s sport there was at the very least a perfect ending with Stephanie Meadow taking the inaugural title, which may have only been bettered by Modest Golf’s own Leona Maguire collecting the trophy.

A Northern Irish winner on Northern Irish soil can only have a positive impact on Northern Irish sport, with the huge drive from the Federation of Irish Sport’s 20×20 campaign ‘Can’t See Can’t Be’.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time to reflect on the impact that not being able to see women’s golf is having on the industry as a whole and stop believing that it will take just one person to drive change in the game.

Emma Ballard

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