Sneak Peek: This article will appear in the Oct. 21 issue of Global Golf Post.
Up until now, most of golf’s equality stories have been about women finally being accepted as members at some of the game’s more famous all-male bastions. Now, in the blink of an eye, things have moved on to the point where the 78 leading men on the European Tour and their 78 equivalents on the Ladies European Tour will be playing head to head in a full-scale tournament with no questions asked.
The €1.5 million Scandinavian Mixed, which is being co-sanctioned by the two tours and co-hosted by Henrik Stenson and Annika Sörenstam, will take place at the Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Stockholm from 11-14 June before moving elsewhere in Sweden in 2021 and 2022. Significantly, there will be world ranking points on offer for both parties in addition to Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points for the European Tour men and order-of-merit points for the women.
This news coincided with the somewhat surprising confirmation that discussions are renewed about a merger between the LET and the LPGA.
Back in 2017, when the LET was in a total mess, with tournaments and finances dwindling at a rate of knots, people breathed a sigh of relief when the European Tour, the LPGA and the R&A stepped in with offers of help. However, since the LET board even then decided, unanimously, that they were not prepared to recommend their players seize those opportunities, it seems more than passing strange that they would be interested now. By all accounts, Mark Lichtenhein, the LET’s recently departed CEO, put the tour’s finances in order; new tournaments, including the Scandinavian Mixed, are in the offing; and, of course, Europe has just won the Solheim Cup, an event that was the most-watched women’s sporting event in Scotland’s history.
Deepening the partnership between the LPGA and the LET could definitely work. It is interesting that the language of the talks has changed. While the 2017 discussions sounded like a rescue mission, with the European Tour, R&A and LPGA responding to a distress signal from a sinking ship, words like “merger” are being used now while begging the question as to how any such arrangement might affect what is currently a battle between two well-defined tours in the Solheim Cup. It is still early days, although the LPGA plans to make a proposal to the LET board prior to the players’ meeting in November.
As for the Scandinavian Mixed, it would be impossible to hit on a better time and place for such an innovative event. Anything to do with equality and the Swedes tend to lead the way, just as they did 50 years or so ago when they became the first to replace gender-specific maternity leave with “parental leave.” (It amounts to six months off per child, with each parent entitled to take half of that handsome allowance.)
Keith Pelley, the European Tour CEO and a man whose good ideas comfortably outweigh the less good, was at Augusta National in advance of the Masters this year when he first began to appreciate that the impossible could happen, that men and women going head to head could work. His thoughts were prompted by the number of times people approached him for an update on what was happening at the Jordan Mixed Open, a tournament staged the weekend before the Masters that featured head-to-head competition between players from the men’s European Challenge Tour, the Staysure Tour for male seniors and the Ladies European Tour. With almost all the TV coverage dedicated to goings-on in the US, people wanted to know if England’s Meghan MacLaren, who had opened with a 65, was still in the lead.
In the end, MacLaren retained her lead after a second 65 but lost by two strokes to the Challenge Tour’s Daan Huizing. However, what captivated Pelley was how the members of the three tours had made the cut in roughly equal measures. “It turned into a brilliant showcase for our game,” said Pelley, who recognised just how much this watershed moment was down to Simon Higginbottom, the Challenge Tour referee whose course setup had been spot on.
Lichtenhein, whose contract as the LET’s acting CEO came to an end at a point when three more new events – in Belgium, Russia and Kazakhstan – are on the point of coming to fruition, said that the talking about another mixed event started almost as soon as Pelley returned from the States.
What with the Nordea Masters, formerly the Scandinavian Masters, having come to the end of what had been a three-year arrangement after the 2018 tournament, the idea of filling the gap with a Scandinavian Mixed would have been seen as something of a eureka moment.
“Not only was it right up the Swedes’ street,” said Lichtenhein, “but there were so many other advantages. … Apart from anything else, a mixed event matches the requirements of the Olympic ideal in showing that golf today can be modern and inclusive.”
Probably as much if not more than most other sports.
Mixed doubles can make for great viewing in tennis but, as amply demonstrated by a German by the name of Karsten Braasch out in Australia in 1998, head-on matches do not work. Braasch, who was ranked No. 203 in the world at the time, stepped forward when the Williams sisters said they would be able to beat any male tennis player ranked around 200 in the world. He beat Serena, 6-1, and Venus, 6-2.
“If you look at what’s important, it’s all about being global, inclusive and innovative and the event we have here matches that description to the letter.” – Guy Kinnings
Athletics embraced the notion of the sexes competing alongside each other when women were included in the relay at the recent World Championships in Qatar but here, as in tennis, the possibilities are limited. Golf, on the other hand, allows for the men and women to be compared in a host of different disciplines from, say, driving accuracy to their play on and around the green. In other words, everything stays the same other than the tee positions.
Guy Kinnings, Pelley’s No 2 at the European Tour and the director of the Ryder Cup, said this week that the response from media and potential sponsors to the Scandinavian Mixed event has been overwhelming. “If you look at what’s important, it’s all about being global, inclusive and innovative and the event we have here matches that description to the letter,” he said.
“This is the way we want to go. Golf can get ‘samey,’ but what happened in Jordan has shown us, as never before, just how flexible and innovative a game golf can be. Young people came to watch GolfSixes, another of our different events, and they’re going to love the Scandinavian Mixed.”
It was Henry Cotton, a three-time Open champion in the 1930s and ’40s, who first said of golf that it was a game for all ages, all standards and both sexes. How extraordinary it is, therefore, that our royal and ancient game has waited so long to start making the most of its assets.
Finally, a few ideas on who else, apart from Stenson and Sörenstam, will work as co-hosts – since Dame Laura Davies’s own tournament is still a “work in progress,” how about Dame Laura and Colin Montgomerie; Tommy Fleetwood and Georgia Hall; and Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Caroline Masson?
And from America, why not Tiger Woods and his niece, Cheyenne?
Henrik Stenson will co-host the Scandinavian Mixed next June. Photo: James Wilson, MB Media via Getty Images
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?