If a major can become any more desirable to win than it already is then the R&A has done exactly that with the AIG Women’s Open which starts here on Thursday, by announcing that with a near £1 million hike to £4.2 million the tournament will boast the biggest prize fund in women’s golf.
And the remarkable inflation will not stop there. When Muirfield hosts this championship next year, there will be “at least” another $1 million (£727,000) increase, taking the purse to nigh on £5 million, double what it was just three years ago.
Whatever is said about the R&A – and in truth, criticisms about the governing body could well be at an all-time low – its influence since taking over the reigns of the British major has been nothing less than staggering.
“When we became completely responsible for this event [in 2019] it was a goal to move it up,” Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, said. “One is to have a world-class experience for our players, fans and sponsors and to make it a really important part of the calendar – a ‘can’t miss’ event.
“We believe this sends a strong signal that more needs to be done by everyone involved in our sport.
“We have set a new benchmark for prize money in women’s major championship golf and, thanks to AIG, will build on it still further next year. We hope this will inspire other events to follow our lead and help us to take a collective leap forward for the women’s game.”
Slumbers pointed out that the rotation of high-profile courses announced last year will also increase the stature, although as ever in golf, the money makes the biggest splash. The winner here on Sunday will collect £632,000 and, although that is almost 25 per cent more than Sophia Popov earned at Troon last year, it remains some way behind the R&A’s stated aim of parity with prize money at the male Open – Collin Morikawa won £1.45 million at Royal St George’s last month.
Slumbers, however, was understandably in no mood for negativity. “I’m a glass half-full guy,” he said. “I think we’ve closed a huge gap over these few years, so I look at that as a positive. I think the direction of travel is here.
“But I remain consistently of the view that we need to build the financial wherewithal of women’s professional golf, particularly in our championship … keep building the value of the sponsorship, the number of people who come to watch, the value of the media rights, and if we are successful on that, then we’ll continue down this journey.”