When the Women’s Victoria Open returned to Australian Ladies Professional Golf in 2012 after a 20-year absence, it was with a twist that gave competitive golf a glimpse into the future. Staged as a concurrent event with the Men’s Victoria Open, the ISPS Handa Vic Open opened the door for innovative formats.
With the marketing message: “Men and women. On the same course. At the same time. For equal prize money,” the ISPS Handa is unique in the game: men and women competing on the same course at the same time in alternating groups with two winners.
Each starts with a field of 144 that is cut to 60 after two rounds and to 35 after 54 holes. Last year, Celine Boutier of France and David Law of Scotland took home the winner’s share from the equal $1.5 million purses.
In very short order, the rest of the world took note of what Golf Australia was up to. The tournament became co-sanctioned by the ALPG and the Ladies European Tour in 2017 and in 2019 the LPGA joined the party. This week at 13th Beach Golf Links in Barwon Heads, the tournament is a stop for the LPGA, LET, ALPG, ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia and men’s European Tour.
What Golf Australia managed to do was use history as a springboard into the future. The men’s Vic Open was first played in 1957 and its winners include major champions Peter Thomson, Gary Player, David Graham, Greg Norman and Ian Baker-Finch. The women’s Vic Open existed from 1988-92 but didn’t gain traction until it returned in 2012 as a concurrent event.
This year’s Vic Open includes LPGA major winners and Hall of Fame members Inbee Park and Karrie Webb alongside major champs So Yeon Ryu, Hannah Green, Jeongeun Lee6 and Stacy Lewis as well as Rolex Rankings top-10 player Minjee Lee, a local hero, and rising stars Maria Fassi, Su Oh, and Anne van Dam. On the men’s side is 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, another Aussie hero.
“To see Hannah and Geoff show their support is a great sign for a tournament that continues to amaze the golfing world,” said Golf Australia General Manager of Operations Simon Brookhouse. “They are both very popular players and always attract great interest, so I'm sure that will continue [at] Barwon Heads.”
There is ample proof the idea of mixed-fields is catching on. Last year was the first season of the Aon Risk Reward Challenge season-long competition with $1 million to both a PGA Tour and LPGA Tour player for lowest cumulative score on designated holes at each event. In 2019, that was Brooks Koepka and Carlota Ciganda, whose emotional speech was one of the highlights of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
“We are starting to create the kind of equality you see happening every day within companies that are sponsors,” said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
And this year there will be the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik & Annika, which will feature 78 men and 78 women at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Stockholm, Sweden, from June 11-14, which will be co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the LET.
Sweden’s most successful male – Henrik Stenson – and female – Annika Sorenstam – will play host to the €1.5 million event that will have only one winner with Official World Ranking points for the men, Rolex Rankings points for the women, plus Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points for European Tour members, and Order of Merit points for the LET.
Stenson is confirmed to play the next three years and Sörenstam, who retired from competitive golf in 2008 after gathering 72 LPGA trophies, including 10 majors, will play in the pro-am.
“I’m extremely excited to host the Scandinavian Mixed alongside Annika,” said Stenson, an 11-time European Tour winner, including the 2016 Open at Royal Troon and the silver medal at the 2016 Olympics. “To have men and women competing alongside one another showcases what is great about our game.”
“Bringing women and men together in a combined tournament is exciting for fans in Sweden and for the global game as we continue to showcase golf is a game for everyone,” said Sorenstam. “This mixed tournament is another way to bring our game to the younger generation in Sweden and for those watching around the world.”
Specific logistical questions such as course set-up are still to come, but the concept of elite male and female golfers playing for the same title and one top prize is a twist on the dual prize in the concurrent ISPS Handa Vic Open.
Both tournaments are examples of how the leaders of tournament golf are engaging in forward thinking. And it all started in Australia in 2012 when two tours came together with one great idea that made the world of tournament golf sit up and take notice. The Vic Open feels like it is the start of something big.