Just two-and-a-half weeks after giving away a record prize money payout at the Open Championship, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers was at it again on the eve of the AIG Women’s Open at Walton Heath. In announcing an increase in the overall purse by 23 per cent from a year ago at Muirfield, the fifth and final women’s major will now hand out a record $9 million, the winner collecting a first-place cheque of $1.35 million.
There was also good news for golf’s top female players in the announcement that title sponsor AIG is on board through 2030. And more again in the message that the championship will visit Royal Lytham in 2026, following in the immediate footsteps of the Old Course at St Andrews next year and Royal Porthcawl in 2025.
“When I look at what we have achieved in the last five years, I personally am incredibly proud,” said Slumbers, the R&A having taken over the administration of the tournament in 2018. “The future of women’s golf is bright, and it’s up to us with the support of the wider industry to take bold steps in a way that is financially sustainable to ensure our aspirations become reality. Part of the elevation of the AIG Women’s Open is to stage it on the best courses that present the greatest challenge, as is evident this week here at Walton Heath. We are hosted by great courses and we are showcasing the world’s greatest women’s golfers at a truly international championship.”
— The R&A (@RandA) August 9, 2023
The increase in prize money falls in line with what happened at the other women’s majors this year.
2021 purse: $3 million ($465,000 to the winner)
2022 purse: $5 million ($750,000)
2023 purse: $5.1 million ($765,000)
KPMG WOMEN’S PGA
2021 purse: $4.5 million ($675,000)
2022 purse: $9 million ($1.35 million)
2023 purse: $10 million ($1.5 million)
US WOMEN’S OPEN
2021 purse: $5.5 million ($1 million)
2022 purse: $10 million ($1.8 million)
2023 purse: $11 million ($2 million)
AMUNDI EVIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
2021 purse: $4.5 million ($675,000
2022 purse: $6.5 million ($1 million)
2023 purse: $6.5 million ($1 million)
Also on the rise is the number of spectators expected this week in England. While the Women’s Open pulls in nowhere the size of galleries seen at the men’s equivalent, things are looking up.
“It is a challenge for all women’s golf to get people to come and watch,” Slumbers said. “So we did a lot of research in an effort to find out how we get people who don’t currently play golf to come and watch this championship. It’s not usually a challenge we have with the men’s open. We had 265,000 two weeks ago at Hoylake and 290,000 a year ago at St Andrews. But we had 30,000 at Muirfield for the Women’s Open.
“We wanted to attract families, and we wanted to attract young girls who do not necessarily play golf but who want to come and have a good day,” he continued. “So what we needed to create is a family centred environment, which is what we’ve tried to do here. We are going to be around 50,000 for this week, a fantastic achievement. Women’s golf needs to differentiate itself from men’s golf and not just be a smaller version of men’s golf. What we are trying to do here is create a different identity, one we hope will allow these great players to show us how good they are.”
It is a sound formula: Build it, pay them well and they will come.