Golf has long been dogged by an image problem – attracting players rather than fans and just above eye level
The UK’s top female players should be rewarded enough for their efforts, a top executive has said after announcing a landmark sponsorship deal.
The Ladies European Tour (LET) signed a three-year agreement with AXA for the first time.
The deal, which follows a takeover of the organisation by private equity firm I2, also includes new rankings for players of both sexes.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable with our golfers being paid out of your pocket,” chief executive Keith Pelley told BBC Radio 5 live.
The potential to be paid by the company, which will also become a shareholder in the LET, will come from new sponsorship deals and points earned on the tour.
It is understood this will provide automatic rankings points for each player who slots into the top 15 of a tournament, although Pelley would not confirm if AXA would be able to double up on the money-list from this year.
Last year, businesswoman and Austrian golfer Maria Hjorth hit gold after moving from 38th in the world ranking on the LET to 25th – moving her to the top of the money list.
“I want to reward our athletes for what they do, this is a new era,” Pelley said.
“This game is changing, it has played into all our hands and we’ve watched the changes of the market come up to us.
“When my friend Atwal had a great season and just realised he could be paid by the sponsors, what a difference that made.
“We don’t need to chase the dollars or the debt, it is not viable anymore. It has to be about your fans.”
Women now at the forefront
Chris Sheasby: The LET has a new five-year strategy to build an enhanced brand for both fans and players.
Maria Hjorth: The wealth management company Aviva PLC agreed in 2016 to become the the tournament’s title sponsor for the next five years
“We are welcoming more women to the sport, and they are seeing the success with individuals such as Maria Hjorth – a rookie in our world golf cup to move into the world top 25 and win the event at the Phoenix Open.
“We are taking this 10% more seriously, we need to take 10% of this business away from the men to get women on the top money list.
“We are not trying to be a male cartel or a women cartel, we are being fair to both sides.”
Dan Roan, BBC sports editor
The new and lucrative deal will undoubtedly cause huge concerns in the traditional men’s game, where few players earn millions for the best.
But the commercial potential of women’s golf, and the problems men’s golf faces, are enormous.
With the likes of Tony Finau shooting major money list points to reach the world’s top 15, women deserve their wealth.
This even-handed look at the lucrative growth of women’s sport has received a warm welcome on social media, particularly in Twitter on the subject of gender equality in women’s sport.