Martin Dempster: Growth of Ladies Scottish Open deserves better recognition

Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn on the 18th at the 2018 Ladies Scottish Open at Gullane. Pic: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn on the 18th at the 2018 Ladies Scottish Open at Gullane. Pic: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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It really was a terrible clash. Two big events – the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex – taking place at exactly the same time. Even worse when the latter was being staged on the Old Course at St Andrews for the first time.

“Don’t people who organise these events talk,” I was asked during a golf chat on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound on Sunday and, in fairness, that was probably a question being pondered by many members of the Scottish golfing public as they swithered over where to be last week to enjoy some top-class action.

They do talk, of course, and the reason for the unfortunate clash was simple, although, in an ideal world, these two events wouldn’t be staged at the same time and certainly not in the same side of the country, with the ladies’ event being held not too far from St Andrews, as the crow flies anyway, at Gullane.

The Senior Open has been held the week after the Open Championship for a number of years now and has only started sharing that slot with the Ladies Scottish Open since 2015. Restored to the LET schedule in 2010, it was a low-key affair but not any more. It has been transformed by moving to the week before the Ricoh Women’s British Open and also becoming part of the LPGA Tour schedule.

Three years ago, prior to the latter development, only two players from the world’s top 100 teed up in the Ladies Scottish Open. Contrast that to last week, when ten of the top 15 in the Rolex rankings spearheaded a star-studded field on the East Lothian coast. In short, it boasted a stronger field than the men’s version a fortnight earlier and that, of course, wasn’t exactly shabby.

Both were world-class events and hats off to not only the title sponsor, Aberdeen Standard Investments, but also the Scottish Government, through VisitScotland, for serving up such tasty treats. We really can’t take it for granted that tournaments such as this will continue to be part of the Scottish sporting calendar and, therefore, they simply have to be given the proper backing outside the ropes.

In fairness, and bearing in mind, of course, that the Open Championship was at Carnoustie the following week, that was the case for the men’s event, which had an official attendance for five days of 63,434. No official figures were provided for the ladies’ event but, even though admittance was free, it was a fraction of that.

The weather, admittedly, wasn’t exactly favourable on Sunday in particular when it turned wet but also Saturday afternoon when the wind whipped up, but it was warm and sunny apart from that, so there were no excuses, really, why a few more people didn’t take the chance to enjoy a world-class sporting event on their doorstep.

Like it or not, though, ladies’ golf, even if it does involve so many of the world’s leading players, simply doesn’t have the same appeal to the Scottish sporting public as a whole as the men’s game. This would have been the scenario in many households across the country last week: “Should we go to St Andrews to see Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle or head to Gullane to watch Ariya Jutanugarn, So Yeon Ryu, Lydia Ko and Catriona Matthew?”

Based on the shocking apathy shown towards Matthew over the years, the latter wasn’t going to happen for a lot of people and, of course, the moment Watson, one of the most beloved figures in the game in the eyes of the Scottish golfing public, appeared on the leaderboard at St Andrews, that event became the main focus of attention for many over the weekend. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and let’s hope the Senior Open becomes a frequent visitor to St Andrews in the future. The incredible growth of the Ladies Scottish Open in such a short period of time, though, deserves to be acknowledged a bit better by the sporting public going forward.

The main aim of Women and Girls’ Golf Week, which is taking place across Great Britain & Ireland this week, is to celebrate the successes of females in many different roles in golf and to challenge misconceptions. Coming hot on the heels of the R&A launching its Women in Golf Charter, it would be nice to think that in 12 months’ time a few more people, both female and male, will be out watching the Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, especially when it is a little later on the summer schedule and, therefore, won’t be clashing again with the Senior Open.