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What Women Need to Know about the British Open – and Other Tournaments

By: Nancy Berkley


This week the news will be all about the British Open, the oldest golf tournament in the world played on the most historic course of all – the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. There will be no women golfers in the Open this year, but next year may be different. This article will help you understand the role of women in professional golf tournaments and why they are increasingly in the headlines.

In April 2005, it was announced that, for the first time, women may qualify for a spot in the 2006 Open. The qualifying rounds are played at several locations around the world. (See the excellent official site of the British Open at http://www.opengolf.com/.)

Another route to the British Open is through winning a prior tournament such as the Masters or a PGA Tour event. In fact, if Michelle Wie had won the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic this past weekend, she would have been invited to the British Open and been the first woman ever to play in it.

The British Open is one of the four “major” tournaments that men have historically competed in. (The others are the PGA Championship, the Masters at Augusta National, and the U.S. Open.) The women’s best golfers have their traditional majors as well. They are the LPGA Championship, the Kraft-Nabisco Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Weetabix Women’s British Open (organized by the Ladies Golf Union of Britain).

If you are a little confused, it’s not surprising. The bright line between all-male tournaments and all-female golf tournaments is becoming blurred. For example, Wie made headlines the week of July 4th playing in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic – as the only woman golfer. Although the PGA Tour does not prohibit women competitors, only three women in recent history have played in PGA Tour events. Read on for a basic primer about women playing in professional golf tournaments. (If what you want to know is not in this article, just email Nancy your question at info@nancyberkley.com or visit her website at www.nancyberkley.com.)

The LPGA Tour

The LPGA stands for Ladies Professional Golf Association and is the longest-running women’s sports association in the world. The LPGA is a “ladies” golf association. Under its charter, men may not join. The LPGA was founded over 50 years ago by a group of dynamic and talented women golfers including the famous Patty Berg. My first set of golf clubs were Wilson’s Patty Berg signature clubs – hand-me-downs from a friend. For some reason, I held on to the putter from that set (old putters still get lucky), and a few years ago I asked Patty to sign it. We took this photo at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida in 1999.

The LPGA has two major divisions – the Tour division and the Teaching and Club Professional Division. Famous golfers like Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam achieved their fame and popularity playing in LPGA Tour events, such as the Kraft-Nabisco tournament in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The LPGA Tour is very international. Many LPGA Tour events are played outside of the U.S. and the women competitors come from many countries. See the schedule on www.lpga.com.

In order to play on an LPGA Tour event, a female golfer must be 18 or over, declared herself a “professional” and have demonstrated the required skill through previous tournament play. (Amateur golfers are not allowed to accept prize money or commercial endorsements.) There will certainly be pressure on the LPGA to modify its rules if Michelle Wie decides she wants to turn professional at the age of 16.

You are probably wondering how younger amateur players like Michelle Wie and Morgan Pressel compete on the LPGA Tour. (They both played in the March 2004 Kraft Nabisco LPGA tournament and the recent U.S. Women’s Open.) The answer is that almost every LPGA Tour event allows the sponsor – such as the Kraft-Nabisco company – to invite women golfers who otherwise might not qualify. It is this “exemption” or “exception” process that allows younger amateur golfers to compete on the LPGA Tour or in USGA tournaments. A similar exemption process exists for PGA Tour events explained below.

In addition to LPGA tournaments, there is also the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Division, which is led by my friend, Dr. Betsy Clark, Vice President of Professional Development. There are only about 1,200 female LPGA instructors. It is difficult to get accepted into the program; so, when you link up with an LPGA teaching pro, consider yourself fortunate.

The LPGA is managed by a commissioner. Over the LPGA’s 50-year history, there have been only five commissioners and all of them have been men. The most recent, Ty Votaw, recently announced he will resign in September 2005. The new commissioner will be Carolyn Vesper Bivens – yes, a woman! Read more about Carolyn on http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?mid=4&pid=4104.

The PGA

First of all, it’s important to know that the PGA Tour and the PGA are two different organizations. (The full name of The PGA is the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.) The PGA is devoted to training professional instructors and managers in the golf industry. (See the website www.pga.com)

There are about 28,000 members of the PGA. Although the PGA permits women to become members (unlike the LPGA, which currently does not allow men to become members), there are only about 800 female members of the PGA. Many of those 800 PGA women are also members of the LPGA. A famous member of both associations is Suzy Whaley. (More about Suzy below.)

The PGA sponsors many golf competitions at the regional level and one major national competition – the PGA Championship. In August, the PGA Championship will be played in New Jersey at Baltusrol Country Club. To read more about the coming PGA Championship, click http://www.pga.com/pgachampionship/2005/. The PGA also sponsors the Ryder Cup team matches played alternately in the U.S. and Europe. (The LPGA sponsors a similar women’s team event called the Solheim Cup.

The PGA Tour

The PGA Tour sponsors about 20 major tournaments each year – many are televised and net proceeds are donated to charity.

The tournament schedule is listed on http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/schedules/r. In addition to tour events, the PGA Tour also owns golf courses: The Players Championship courses – often called TPC courses. (The Champions Tour is for senior golfers and is also organized by the PGA Tour.)

The PGA Tour logo has a male golfer, but female golfers have played on PGA Tour events. The first female golfer to play in a PGA Tour event, was Babe Didrickson Zaharias – over 50 years ago. And then two years ago, Suzy Whaley qualified for the Greater Hartford Open PGA Tour event by winning her PGA regional competition. There are no rules prohibiting women from PGA Tour events if they qualify or receive an exemption from the tour sponsor. Annika Sorenstam was invited to play in the famous Colonial tournament in May 2003 through a sponsor exemption

And that brings us back to Michelle Wie and her participation in the John Deere Classic. Michelle was given a sponsor’s exemption to this PGA Tour event. This is the third PGA Tour event that Michelle has played. She played in two Sony Opens (also PGA Tour events), but did not play well enough in the early rounds to make the “cut” for the final two rounds. Unfortunately, she didn’t make the cut in the John Deere Classic either, but she is very positive that it will happen in her next PGA Tour event.

The USGA

What about the USGA sponsored U.S. Women’s Open? The USGA is organized to maintain the rules of golf in the U.S. (including the Handicap System) and to promote fair competition. Its members are golf courses and individual golfers. See www.usga.org.

The U.S. Women’s Open – sponsored by the USGA, is one of the most famous women’s tournament. Here is Nancy Lopez at the 1997 U.S. Women’s Open and Julie Inkster in 2002. (Photos courtesy of the USGA website)

This past June, Michele Wie (age 15), Morgan Pressel (17) and Brittany Lang (19) – all amateurs – played in the U.S. Women’s Open in Cherry Hills, Colo. Morgan and Brittany tied for second place.

The U.S. Women’s Open is organized differently from the LPGA and PGA Tour events described above. The “Open” is exactly that – all over the country there are regional qualifying events that are “open” to both amateur and professional women. in addition, the USGA invites other golfers who have won or qualified through other tournaments. (The British Open and the Weetabix Women’s British Open also use the “open” qualifying format. For more information about the Women’s British Open, visit http://www.lgu.org/championships/weetabix_open_2005/news/www_champs_wtbix05_pr1/  

If you are interested in more history about women golfers, see the Women’s Golf History Timeline on my website http://www.nancyberkley.com/774892.html.

Attending a Golf Tournament – It’s easy

Visit the website for the event sponsor such as the LPGA, PGA, PGA Tour or USGA. There you’ll find a tour schedule and links to the specific tournament. Contact the tournament via email tickets. At many tournaments, tickets may be purchased at the entrance. Daily tickets for most LPGA and PGA Tour events not expensive (under $50 per day). However, a few like the PGA Championship are very expensive – $90 on the final days.

When you go to a tour event, be prepared to walk and to sit on the grass. Also, cameras are prohibited (except for the press) at most tournaments as are backpacks or big pocketbooks. It’s best to travel light and comfortable. I guarantee you will learn something about your swing from attending an actual tournament and following the experts around the course. And, you will definitely have fun!

Nancy Berkley is an expert on women’s golf. Her book, “Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women’s Golf,” published in 2003 by the National Golf Foundation, is the industry reference on how-to attract and retain women golfers. She updates her research and best practices on her website www.nancyberkley.com.

Nancy consults with facilities on how they can increase participation and revenues from women golfers and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Nancy also reviews courses for “The Golf Insider,” an international golf and travel newsletter, and “Ladies Golf Journey,” a golf publication for women. She’s contributed articles to “Golf For Women” magazine and is the author of the 2004 PGA Magazine cover story about women golfers.

A respected resource in the golf industry, Nancy participates in Golf 20/20, the annual strategic invitation-only conference sponsored by the PGA Tour, the PGA, the LPGA, and the World Golf Foundation. At the November 2004 Conference, she moderated the panel discussions on player development with a focus on women golfers. She has addressed the National Golf Course Owner’s Association at their National Conference as well as at numerous marketing seminars for the PGA and LPGA professionals. Nancy serves as a consultant to the Golden Links Advisory Board of Corporate Meetings & Incentives, a PRIMEDIA Business Publication. Nancy is an experienced golfer and has competed on the Metropolitan Women’s Golf Association (N.J., N.Y., Conn.) interclub matches. She’s served on the Board and Golf Committees of her golf clubs in Florida and New Jersey.

In 1998, Nancy founded Berkley Consulting and The Woman’s Only Guide® to Golf to share her long-time passion for golf and to help grow the game. Prior to working in the golf industry, Nancy was an attorney for a Wall Street firm and then held a number of senior executive positions with Prudential Financial, including Assistant General Counsel and Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Business Integration. Nancy began her professional career as a high school teacher.

Nancy holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota; a master’s degree in teaching from Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and a law degree from Rutgers University School of Law, where she was a member of the Law Review. She is a graduate of the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School.

Nancy describes herself as a bogey golfer and plays on her home courses in Florida and New Jersey. To contact her, write, call or email Nancy at: Nancy Berkley, Berkley Consulting, 242 Eagleton Estates Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 561-776-7243 or at info@nancyberkley.com.