Australian Golf Digest
[Feature image: Alan Gillott at the gala opening of women’s professional golf in Australia.]
This year marks 50 years of Women’s Professional Golf in Australia. The membership-based organisation founded in 1972 now has more than 300 members, with a substantial number of them international touring professionals. There are seven major international women’s golf tours recognised by the Rolex World Rankings, including the WPGA Tour of Australasia. Since the organisation’s inception, Australian golf has witnessed many great moments and seen tremendous progress. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the WPGA, we have compiled its top 10 historical milestones.
August 1972 marked the formation and constitution of the WPGA. The idea of an Australian women’s tour was the brainchild of Alan Gillott, while Hugh Bonython played an important role in supporting the WPGA financially during its infancy. A large portion of Gillott’s role was doing the legwork in the United States, where he acquainted and recruited players. His efforts resulted in 19 tournaments being held in 1973. In the first ever WPGA event, 11 members plus one international player teed off, with the association gradually gaining more members throughout the initial year.
Across Australia, the executive directors (Gillott and Bonython) were instrumental in setting up teaching clinics for amateurs in golf clubs in 1974 and 1975. In 1976, the association was without a managing director and the members chose to operate and manage themselves. Bonython stayed on as patron and there were 10 tournaments per year in each of 1975, ’76 and ’77. The players were still administrating the circuit until 1990, before deciding to appoint a manager for the tour once again in ’91.
In 1990, Japanese real estate company Daikyo came on board and injected money into the tour by becoming the official sponsor of the Australian Ladies Masters. The tournament was held at Palm Meadows Golf Club on the Gold Coast for the first time. Daikyo also contributed financially to several events held in Cairns. For the tour, this was a pivotal and significant milestone. A Gold Coast office was also provided by Daikyo for the company’s executives. Alpine cigarettes became the next major sponsor of the Australian Ladies Masters in 1993.
The association was kept together by John Hill, the secretary and patron. As of this time, the secretary’s position was voluntary. In 1976, Don Johnson became the first paid executive director. A man with extensive experience on the men’s tour, Johnson was instrumental in modifying the association’s constitution and organising it professionally. As secretary, Sheri Wright handled sponsorships and liaising with golf clubs.
Margie Masters was the first Australian to play on the LPGA Tour and the first Australian to win on the LPGA Tour. Historiographers believe she may have been appointed vice-president when Gillott and Bonython founded the WPGA. Masters received the Rookie of the Year Award on the LPGA Tour after turning professional in 1965. A year later, she finished runner-up at the Women’s Western Open (then a Major championship). It was at the 1967 Quality Chek’d Classic that Masters won her only LPGA title.
Jan Stephenson brought a great deal of attention to the sport. In 1974, she joined the LPGA Tour and would win three Major championships and 16 LPGA Tour events. Among her 27 worldwide victories are four LPGA Legends Tour triumphs. In 2019, she became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Stephenson championed a ‘sex sells’ marketing approach, becoming one of the first LPGA stars to embrace the concept.
It is a popular opinion to say that Karrie Webb is the greatest golfer Australia has ever produced. In her career, Webb won seven Major titles and was the world’s best golfer for a considerable time. She has a long history of supporting the Australian events and the WPGA. In addition to her accomplishments, Webb is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. She has 41 victories, more than any other active player on the LPGA Tour. With 13 wins on the ALPG, Webb won eight Australian Ladies Masters and five Women’s Australian Opens.
Operated by Golf Australia and the WPGA Tour of Australasia, the Women’s Australian Open is co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour. Additionally, beginning with the 2012 event, it also became co-sanctioned by the LPGA Tour. As a result, the WPGA became more visible on a global stage.
The Victorian Open was a major milestone for the WPGA for a few reasons. After the 1992 Women’s Vic Open, there was a 20-year hiatus between events. It was reintroduced in 2012 with the unique structure of the women playing alongside the men in two separate events. The tournament has been co-sanctioned by the LPGA and Ladies European Tour, making it a landmark event.
A pivotal moment for the WPGA was the creation of The Players Series on the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia and WPGA Tour. A single Order of Merit is awarded to both men and women competing in the same field for the same prize purse. Hannah Green made history at the 2022 TPS Murray River by becoming the first female to win in a male-and-female field.
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