As sport settles into its return from lockdown, the Ladies’ European Tour (LET) will welcome players back from the enforced break when elite sport comes to the scenic North Berwick in Scotland this week.
After sustained growth in recent years, many women’s sporting events have been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic. But after a successful return to action on the LPGA Tour, this week’s co-sanctioned event with the LET - the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open - will provide some of the world’s top golfers with the perfect opportunity to return to action in Scotland just a week before the Women’s Open at Royal Troon.
This will be the country’s first taste of elite golf since last year’s Solheim Cup, which saw Europe, captained by Scottish golfing legend Catriona Matthew, win in dramatic fashion with the last putt of the last match on the course at Gleneagles.
However this time it will be under strict social distancing guidelines put in place through extensive consultation and collaboration between the Scottish Government and the event’s stakeholders, Aberdeen Standard Investments, VisitScotland, the LPGA and the LET.
“We’ve been sponsoring the event since 2008 and it’s gone from strength to strength since we co-sanctioned it with the LPGA Tour in 2017, and it’s a great slot just before the Women’s Open at Troon,” said Martin Gilbert, Chairman, Aberdeen Standard Investments.
“I think this is the strongest field we’ve ever had with three of the world’s top ten playing, so it’s going to be good. It’s going to be on TV in over 100 countries, so it’s well set up for a good tournament.”
A global field should be no surprise to followers of women’s golf. While viewers of the men’s PGA Championship, won by the American Collin Morikawa last week, will have seen players from just three different nationalities make up the top ten, the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open will see players from all over the world in a truly global field.
That’s reflective of the current state of women’s golf as a whole: four of the last five major championships in the women’s game have been won by Asian players. Indeed, no fewer than seven different nations have claimed major titles in the past two seasons.
The worldwide interest in the game is of great value to Gilbert, who says the TV audience is now at least as important as the hospitality opportunities when it comes to major events.
“Women’s golf is getting stronger and moving towards better prize money too,” said Gilbert.
“The Asian markets are very important to us and it’s very popular in Asia, in fact it’s almost more popular than men’s golf just because there are so many players from Asia in the world’s top ten.
“So, as a sponsor it works very well for us. It’s sad there will be no crowds this week, but the fact it’s on TV is very important for us, and also the fact it’s in more than 100 countries.
“Sponsorship is about brand awareness for us so the fact this is going all over the world with at least four hours of live coverage each day on Sky Sports, The Golf Channel and channels across Asia is great.
“One of the things we’ve been discussing for a while is whether we should try and finish the event earlier in the day so it becomes attractive to the Asian audience, as opposed to the men’s ASI Scottish Open, where we want to finish late in the day for the US TV audience.
“I think that shows how important the TV audience is for us.”
Times have changed in terms of the global nature of the sport, and also in the status of women’s sport in general. Aberdeen Standard Investments have been at the forefront of that change having sponsored the competition for over a decade and helping it grow into the global event that - despite the social distancing measures in place - will be watched with interest across the globe.
This week’s event will also see a sponsor’s exemption for Georgia Oboh, the first Nigerian player to play on the Ladies’ European Tour, as the game once again expands its reach.
“It’s fantastic that she’s going to play and I’m really looking forward to watching out for her to see how she does.
“The LPGA and LET are global tours. The PGA Tour has never had to be so global, but it shows the strength of the sport and how global it actually is.”
But times are also changing for the sport in another way.
As the game reaches new destinations, questions about sustainability and climate change are at the front of mind. With 22 of the world’s top 50 players and a host of nationalities taking part, the carbon emissions of the travelling golfers and caddies are considerable - as they are for every golfing event held each week.
It’s an issue that all sports are currently grappling with, but this week Aberdeen Standard Investments have announced they will offset the carbon emissions of all 144 players travelling to North Berwick event, as well as their caddies.
Working with ClimateCare, an expert in financing, managing and developing climate projects, the pair will support the accredited Gola Rainforest protection project in Sierra Leone. ASI, indeed, has committed to doing the same for the next three years.
“As an organisation we’re very keen on moving towards the zero carbon economy and this is really just us doing our bit, which is really important.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about how our companies are socially responsible so it fits very much with our ethos of work.”
The global game will once again return to Scotland, this time as a made-for-TV spectacle. But with Covid travel restrictions, climate considerations, and a truly global audience women’s golf might well thrive under new conditions.