HUGGAN: Maclaren a voice for women's golf

Meghan Maclaren
Meghan Maclaren. Image: Getty

 

For those with any kind of interest in women’s golf and the inner workings of an intelligent mind consumed by all aspects of this eternally maddening game, megmaclaren.com is the place to find both. At the still relatively tender age of 24 and only three years into a professional career that saw her record a maiden victory at the 2018 Women’s NSW Open, Meghan Maclaren has established herself as one of the more thought-provoking voices in a female game desperately in need of erudite spokespersons. Her (admittedly irregular) blog is always a fascinating read. 

Maclaren is playing this week in the Vic Open, an event she sees as the model for future collaborations with the men’s tours. Indeed, the multiple and wide-ranging disparities that exist between the male and female games is something that has long energised this former Curtis Cup player. Here is what she had to say about the simultaneous playing of the (Ladies European Tour) Lalla Meryem Cup and the European Tour’s Hassan II Golf Trophy in Morocco last year: 

“If you’re a fan of golf, chances are you probably saw some of the men’s golf when they played in Morocco. Four days of full coverage gives you plenty of opportunity. But the women’s? How many fans know it culminated in a play-off between three great players (and great people)?

“Getting a glimpse of that would have been a bit more tricky, given the fact there was no live coverage. Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but there was no better opportunity to put a regular women’s European event on display, the audience would literally already be there. 

“The camera crews were already there. Would moving a few of them 100 yards, from the men’s course to the women’s course, really be that difficult? I know it’s far from that simple. Contracts, money, logistics, companies, rights etc. But for all the talk of supporting women’s golf, of wanting to help it grow, taking advantage of the opportunities that are staring you in the face seems like a pretty good place to start.”

Strong stuff. And hard to dispute. But Maclaren is not one who lapses into lazy debate. Take this week. Speaking at 13th Beach, this long-suffering Newcastle United fan - there is no other kind - expanded on her argument. 

“I hear people say that the men are just better and that is why more want to watch them,” she said. “And yes, I get that we need to play better. But we need more events. I see more and more exciting players emerging from the LET onto the LPGA Tour. But if there are only a dozen events it is hard to get better. Plus, the people saying our product is inferior have all too often never been to a women’s event. And the media coverage is so different. If you watch a women’s tour event and it was done in exactly the same way as a men’s event, more people would enjoy it. 

“When I watch a European Tour event on television, they have the sky cart there for post-round interviews. They have experts in the studio commenting on what we are seeing. They have on-course interviews. They have the tracer showing the shape of the shots. All of which makes the event a bit more interesting. 

“Last year we were all engaged by whether or not Sergio Garcia would get picked for the Ryder Cup. Because we all know his history. He’s been a great Ryder Cup player and we knew he was struggling last season. Now imagine that same situation for a woman. You’re not necessarily going to know much about her. Because she hasn’t attracted the same level of coverage.”

That situation has long been the case, of course. Despite offering a game from which the vast majority of men could learn much about how to get around a golf course, the women’s tours have forever failed to garner a level of publicity that can begin to rival that afforded the male equivalents.

“The skill level in women’s golf is incredibly high.” continued Maclaren. “So if it was given more attention and media focus, the fans would enjoy it way more than they do now. Plus, for the vast majority of golfers, the game we play is more relevant. The male pros play a game that is so far removed from the average male amateur. That is one argument for why we should get more tv time. If people just watched the golf and ignored the fact that we are women, they couldn’t fail to be impressed. But there are so many pre-conceptions. 

“I had someone tell me that, if women played from the same tees as men, over time we would adapt. But that is rubbish. It betrays a complete lack of understanding about the science and biology of men and women. Men are generally bigger and stronger. And if a man and a woman follow the same training regimen, the man is going to get stronger than the woman. That’s just the way it is. But it doesn’t make the golf we play is any less skilful. In fact, you could argue we have to be more skilful because we are not as strong. We play with a bit more imagination.”

Still, all is not doom and gloom. The Vic Open shines like a beacon amidst the darkness and discrimination. Not surprisingly, Maclaren is impressed. And, as ever, she makes the case for more equality - or at least a closer facsimile of that ideal - with a reasoned logic.

“I haven’t explicitly said we should get the same money as the men,” she insists. “I’m not sure we will ever get to the stage where that can happen. Because of the way the business and golf worlds have operated for so long. If you are bringing in more money for sponsors, it makes sense that you should be paid more. But if you bring it all back to its most basic level, we are doing the same things as the men. 

“We are playing the game to the best of our ability. Which makes me think there is no reason why we shouldn’t start with equal pay. But it has never happened. And the gap is so vast. Which is what should be getting more attention. It shouldn’t be as wide as it is. And it doesn’t need to be.

“To that end, the Vic Open is massive. We are getting the chance to play for the same prize-money as the men. Which is great. Nowhere else in the world is doing this. And it is hugely successful. I’d also like to see a repeat of what the USGA did with the two U.S. Opens at Pinehurst in 2014. We saw that there are so many different ways to play the same course over those two weeks. This week we will end up with two different winners - and they will have played the courses completed differently.

“We should be playing with and alongside the men more often. They need to do things differently now and then. And we do have an event in Jordan later this year, playing alongside the (European Senior) Staysure Tour players and the Challenge Tour guys. But it is different for the men. For them, it is nice to try something different now and then, something that isn’t just 72-holes stroke play. But for us, it would be nice just to have more events.”

And more like the Vic Open too.