By European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley
This week, 87 of the world’s leading players will descend on Augusta National for the first Major Championship of 2019 in men’s professional golf. Countless column inches and thousands of broadcast hours will be filled by the events in Georgia over the next seven days, while social media engagement will be off the charts.
And rightly so. The Masters Tournament is one of golf’s most iconic events, a unique annual pilgrimage which truly transcends our fine game, cutting through to a different audience we do not reach on a weekly basis.
The spotlight shone on Augusta’s majestic fairways a week earlier this year as the club hosted its first National Women’s Amateur, with Jennifer Kupcho providing a finish befitting of a tournament described in the media as a breakthrough for women’s golf.
Meanwhile, some 6,000 miles away, history was also being made at Ayla Golf Club as men and women competed side-by-side, for the same trophy and for the same first prize in the Jordan Mixed Open. The ground-breaking tournament brought together players from the Ladies European Tour, European Challenge Tour and Staysure Tour in an innovative format that created significant interest globally.
In addition to strong mainstream media coverage, early metrics showed the European Tour app experienced a tenfold increase in traffic compared to the 2018 high for a Challenge Tour or Staysure Tour event. This clearly underlines the appetite that exists for mixed tournaments, and another key takeaway from this trailblazing tournament was the unique composition of the final group for Saturday’s decisive round.
It featured two-time Ladies European Tour winner Meghan MacLaren, 2018 Staysure Tour Rookie of the Year Paul Streeter and Dan Huizing, the 28 year old Challenge Tour player who ultimately prevailed by two strokes from MacLaren following a terrific battle on the back nine.
That historic final three-ball, combined with an even spread of players from the three Tours making the cut (25 players from the Challenge Tour, 21 from the Staysure and 20 from the LET) was testament to the equitable course set-up at Ayla Golf Club which was carefully calculated by Tournament Director Simon Higginbottom and our team in Jordan. It was also a wonderful celebration of the uniqueness that golf possesses as the only sport that you can play competitively with anybody, regardless of their age or ability. The Jordan Mixed Open undoubtedly characterised that unique selling point superbly, underscoring just how compelling the competition between men and women is, and indeed can be.
In years to come, I believe we will look back on the Jordan Mixed Open as a watershed moment for golf. Over the past 12 months on the European Tour, we have already seen men and women compete alongside each other at GolfSixes and in the Vic Open in Australia earlier this year, and the Jordan Mixed Open was the next, hugely significant, step on that journey.
The success of these pioneering events will prove to be a gateway for mixed tournaments becoming much more commonplace on the global golfing calendar in the future with the support of sponsors and broadcasters. Since I became CEO of the European Tour in 2015, I have consistently said 72 hole stroke play events such as the Rolex Series will always be the pinnacle of our game. And as the week ahead at the Masters will once again remind us, the Major Championships will always be the apex of both the men’s and women’s games. Yet, as I’ve also repeatedly said over the past four years, we cannot simply rely on doing the same thing for 52 weeks of the year, so we need to continuously innovate, and events such as the Jordan Mixed Open can be transformational for our sport.
The wonderfully eloquent Meghan MacLaren, whose father David played a pivotal role in the advent of the tournament as the Head of the Staysure Tour, perhaps best summed up the feeling around the inaugural event when she said: “The point so many people seem to miss is that you don’t have to compare women’s golf to men’s. One can exist alongside the other and be equally as entertaining, as demanding and as dramatic as the other. The beautiful thing about golf is that it is played differently by every individual. Let’s celebrate that this week.”
It's a sentiment I like to think we all share.