Womens Golf in Southern Africa is hotting up! The oldest womens professional tournament in Africa, dating back to 1988, is The South African Women’s
Open. New and improved, The Cell C South African Women’s Open is rapidly growing since its return to the international schedule with an increased
field, playing for more prize money on an upgraded golf course. As well as this, for the third year now the Ladies European Tour (LET) will be
co-sanctioning the SA Women’s Open which will be televised at San Lameer Golf Estate from 16-19 October 2014. This is great news for the country’s
leading professionals competing alongside a strong international contingent as well as ten South African amateurs. As Margie Whitehouse, Women’s
Professional Golf Association (WPGA) Chairman explains, “Women’s professional golf in South Africa was in a wasteland since 2009, but the return
of the South African Women’s Open as a Ladies European Tour co-sanctioned event in April 2012, sparked a revival in the sport.”
Added to this, the televising of the tournament will be providing the sponsors of the event with a payback in their belief in the tournament and also
for the vision of the WPGA to “...excite and encourage our young golfers and cultivate a whole new focus for women’s golf in South Africa”. This
is a real standout part of what the WPGA are doing, encouraging and wanting to see growth in ground level womens golf in Southern Africa - and
that’s really exciting to see, not only because it gives children an outlet but also because it empowers the next generation. Let’s not forget
that South Africa has provided a good heritage of female golfers, just look at the LET tour currently.
The international field has been increased from 108 to 126 players this year and will feature such stars as South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace, Ashleigh
Simon and Stacy Bregman; English professional and 23-time Ladies European Tour winner Trish Johnson; American Cheyenne Woods; and defending champion
Marianne Skarpnord from Norway. We have covered many of the Ladies European Tour players and events in the magazine and it’s great to see a great
deal of support for the tour not only from South African based players on the LET tour but also from many others.
The golfers will be playing for a total purse of R4.5 million, an increase of nearly half a million rand on the 2013 tournament’s prize money. The
winner will take home R675,000, and the golfers will compete on a San Lameer Country Club course which has recently been upgraded.
The other interesting thing about the SA Women’s Open is the strong support from the corporate sector - the WPGA have really connected with them and
it shows the huge growth in the series during last couple of years. Importantly, the corporate sector can see the vision and are supporting it
all the way - but most interestingly, they can see the potential in womens sport. As Heather Casey from Investec said, “...women’s sport is an
uncluttered market commercially, and we look forward to showcasing some of South Africa’s top female golfers as athletes and individuals.”
As if this wasn’t enough, in February 2014 The Womens PGA of South Africa (WPGA) entered a new era in women’s professional golf in South Africa by
kicking off with the new Sunshine Ladies Tour. The Sunshine Ladies Tour has six qualifying tournaments, with sponsorship coming from big name business
including Investec, Sun International, SuperSport and Dimension Data. These six events culminate in the inaugural Chase to the Investec Cup for
Ladies. WPGA chairman Margie Whitehouse has been the driving force behind the Sunshine Ladies Tour and it is a testament to her and the team for
what has been achieved such a short amount of time. Prior to this players had to seek a competitive platform abroad on other tours. The first thing
the WPGA did was to create a local competitive platform for the South African players and amateurs.
South African number one Lee-Anne Pace claimed the inaugural Investec Cup for Ladies this March, just weeks before she was named the WPGA Player of
the Year and the Golfer of Year at the Compleat Golfer Annual Awards. The eight-time Ladies European Tour champion will be playing alongside defending
champion Marianne Skarpnord of Norway and American Cheyenne Wood.
The overriding thing of all the events for me is that the WPGA wants to create events that will stand on their own as annual celebrations of success
amongst women and golf, not just another tournament - and that is an exciting prospect for sport and womens golf. I look forward with great interest
to see how these events will grow and all the new talent that will emerge as a result.