MAKING GOLF INCLUSIVE
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
This article was originally published on April 3rd, 2019.
Golf history will be made this weekend as the groundbreaking Jordan Mixed Open tees off, in Aqaba, Jordan.
The Jordan Mixed Open will be unlike all other golf tournaments, as there will be no gender divide. The first-of-its-kind international golf tournament will see 123 international male and female players, from the Ladies European Tour, Challenge Tour and Staysure Tour, participating in the same stroke play event.
All male and female players will compete for a single individual prize, including a 15kg of cut crystal trophy and $300,000 prize pot.
Mark Lichtenhein, Chairman of the Ladies European Tour (LET), said “This unique tournament will be the first of its kind, where men and women will compete individually, for the same trophy. The event will give our players a tremendous opportunity to showcase their talents in a level playing field for both genders.”
Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said "This unique event goes a step further, bringing together the stars of three Tours for a truly innovative tournament. There seems to be an appetite in golf for mixed events right now, and this is another opportunity to deliver another entertaining yet credible format.
The Jordan Mixed Open concept was the vision of the ownership of the Ayla Oasis Development Company. A premier golf and leisure development close to the Red Sea City of Aqaba and on the shores of Jordan’s southern coastline.
Chris White, Director of Operations at Ayla, said “We are delighted to play such a pivotal role in the development of this new event prospect, and look forward to welcoming players from the Staysure Tour, the Challenge Tour and Ladies European Tour to Ayla Golf Club in 2019.
“Golf is one of the only sports whereby competitors, regardless of age or gender, can compete fairly together. To see our vision come to life and have the support and collaboration of all three Tours gives us great confidence that our event will be recognized as unique in the world of golf and showcase not only the beauty of Ayla, but the great nation of Jordan.”
The 54-hole, three-day tournament, will include will take place on the Greg Norman-designed championship course at the Ayla Oasis Development.
Players will tackle the course from different tees depending on the tour they compete on. The men of the Challenge Tour will face a 7,100-yard course in the 54-hole strokeplay event while the over-50s from the Staysure Tour will cover 6,601 yards and LET players 6,139 yards.
This is due to the Challenge Tour players being able to drive the ball almost 50 yards further on average than LET players.
“Finding the correct balance with course set up for the Jordan Mixed Open is the collective priority for all three tours,” said tournament director Simon Higginbottom. “Our aim is that if a fairway bunker or similar obstacle is in play for a Ladies European Tour player, it will also be in play for the Staysure and Challenge Tour players.”
Forty players representing each of the three tours and one leading amateur from each will make up the 123-player field. The field will then cut to 60 for the final day's play to compete for the grand prize while leading players from the other two Tours will receive a special accolade.
Among the field of players chasing the first Jordan Mixed Open, includes players like Phillip Price, Barry Lane (@BazLane) and Jarmo Sandelin, who have all represented Europe in The Ryder Cup. Joining them are players like Trish Johnson (@tjohnsongolf), Becky Brewerton (@beckybrewerton), and Emily Kristine Pederson, who have themselves represented Europe in the Solheim Cup.
Bolstering the field further are recent champions from the women’s game like Indian rookie Diksha Dagar (@DikshaDagar), who claimed her first professional title at the Investec South African Women’s Open, and two-time winner Meghan MacLaren (@meg_maclaren), who has been outspoken in her support for mixed golf.
Former European Tour winners Michael Hoey (@MikeHoeyNI) and Germany's Marcel Siem (@SiemMarcel) will be two of the representatives from the Challenge Tour.
Furthermore, a husband and wife duo will be competing against each other in a professional golf tournament, for the first time. Scottish golfer Kylie Henry (@KylieHenryGolf) will take on her husband Scott Henry (@ScottHenryGolf).
For the Henrys, who exchanged vows two years ago, the tournament offers a rare chance to compete, not just in the same time zone, but in the same event, which also means the stakes are high with the all-important bragging rights on the line.
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll have some sort of wager running throughout the tournament,” said Scott. “It will probably involve household chores.”
While the competition will be fierce between the Henrys, there will also be an unofficial battle for ‘low-couple’ as fiancées Marianne Skarpnord (@MSkarpnord) and Richard Green (@R_GreenGolf) add to the field in Jordan.
The tournament has received praise from across the golf community.
Barry Lane one of the senior players from the Staysure Tour stated "It's something different, and for more people to engage in golf that's what we need."
"It's like T20 and Test matches in cricket, a different idea. I don't think we would want it every week, there is a place for traditional 72-hole tournaments, but we need innovation."
"It should be something that appeals to a wider audience and hopefully gets youngsters engaged."
"Sport should be inclusive, and different sexes playing against each other is only right," added Lane.
Germany-based English player Olivia Cowan (@OliviaCowan) says the event has created interest among her peers. "It is a really exciting concept and there is a real buzz about it among the girls on tour," said the 22-year-old. "Lots of the players have asked me about the course when they knew I'd been to play it. Everyone is excited to play here."
Phillip Price, who defeated Phil Mickelson in Sunday Singles to help Team Europe to victory at The 2002 Ryder Cup, stated “This is an important development for the long-term health of our sport.”
“It’s not every week you get to participate in an event that has the potential to change the course of history. 20 years from now, we may just look back on this as the start of a new chapter in professional golf.”
The tournament will be held three months after England's Meghan MacLaren (@meg_maclaren), who will be one of the 40 LET players in Jordan, highlighted the $6m difference in the prize money between the men's and ladies events in Abu Dhabi.
When it comes to the financial side, despite the negative press, things are getting better.
A recent BBC study found 83% of professional sports leagues now reward equal prize money for men and women, a number up from 70% in 2014.
Men and women have competed together in multiple sports like tennis, badminton, figure skating, and against each other in sports like equestrian and sailing, but when it comes to golf it is almost unheard of.
The Jordan Mixed Open suggests there is some mileage in the idea of putting men and women in the same tournaments. Changing the tee-off lengths for a par-5 appears to be the remedy.
In golf, it’s only when breaking out the drivers that men have an advantage. A recent United States Golf Association study found that men with a six or better handicap drove the ball about 31 yards longer off the tee, but when you get down to short par three holes, having ladies’ tees is almost unnecessary.
Once you get to within a few hundred yards of the pin, male or female, the field is pretty much level, power is replaced by accuracy. And when you get on the green, it all comes down to nerves of steel, which do not discriminate by sex.
When done right, men and women competing together can be fun and not disastrous, and it’s great to watch women break into male-dominated sports.
Male or female, sports enthusiasts in all walks of life love nothing more than a good competition, regardless of chromosomes or biology.