Understanding the Ricoh Women's British Open

By: Nancy Berkley

If you are thinking, didn't we just have the Women's Open and didn't Paula Creamer just win it? And if you're wondering why there is another women's open in the news - in England with Ricoh, a Japanese technology company as the sponsor - with U.S. golfers playing in it, well you're not alone.

The tournament schedule for women's golf is actually confusing, especially as the game becomes more international in terms of both players and sponsors. Let me try to explain the basics and clear up some of the confusion.

First, however, as I write this on Friday, July 30th, after the second round of the Women's British Open, it's nice to see four American women golfers among the top 10 players heading into the final two rounds: Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, Julie Inkster and Christina Kim. The leader, with an impressive 8-under score after two rounds, is Yani Tseng of Taiwan. Michelle Wie is off the lead by nine strokes, but anything can happen on this links course, the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in England.

Back to clearing up confusion: The Ricoh Women's British Open is sponsored by the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) which supports women's amateur golf in Great Britain and Ireland. The LGU was founded in 1893 (more than 50 years before the LPGA was established). The LGU has over 220,000 members - amateurs and recreational golfers, which makes it a much different type of organization than the LPGA, which does not have "members" other than its professional Tour players.

The LGU also offers an email newsletter to all of its members. As an aside and a message to LPGA commissioner Michael Whan, I find the LGU membership concept very impressive and a good way to build the female fan base. The LPGA could learn something about reaching out, involving and educating the millions of female golfers in America through an email membership newsletter.

When I talk about the Ladies Golf Union, I always like to remind readers that Mary Queen of Scots is credited with popularizing the game of golf. In fact as a teenager, she was publicly scolded for visiting France where rumor was that she played more golf than she should have. Of course, the game was not exactly like the game we play today - but that's another story.

The Women's British Open is considered a "major" tournament for both the LGU and the LPGA - a unique distinction. A "major" is a prestigious tournament usually because it is played on a challenging course and because of the way the qualifications to play are structured. A "major" includes a very competitive field of players but, because it is an "open," players do not have to be official players on the LPGA Tour or the Ladies European Tour (LET). There has been quite a controversy about why Alexis Thompson did not play in this British Open because she is sort of in limbo - not a member of the LPGA (too young) and no longer an amateur (she just turned pro).

Adding to the confusion: For 20 years, the Women's British Open tournament was sponsored by Weetabix, an English cereal company. It was known as the Weetabix Tournament. In 2007, Ricoh became the sponsor and the tournament is getting more attention. I have been very impressed with the television coverage and the use of personal profiles of the players. It helps to have a hi-tech sponsor!

The Women's British Open is one of the four majors of the LPGA. The other LPGA majors are: the LPGA Championship, Kraft Nabisco and the U.S. Women's Open by the USGA. And that's what confusing: There are two women's Opens!

Two weeks ago, Creamer won the U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont, near Pittsburgh. And what a victory it was for Paula, especially since she played that tournament with a bandaged thumb that was recovering from surgery several months earlier. If you get a chance to see the replay of the British Open round today or Sunday, you will share Paula's pain as she strained her thumb playing a shot out of the long grass at Birkdale.

If you want to follow the Ricoh Women's British Open more closely, here are some suggestions: Read the article on cybergolf.com about Tseng http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/tseng_on_a_roll_at_womens_british_open. The article includes a wonderful interview with Yani and offers good insights into what junior girls golf is like in Taiwan as well as Yani's unique relationship with Annika Sorenstam as her mentor and role model. (And Yani's English is great - remember that controversy?)

The Ladies Golf Union website contains good information about the tournament (see www.lgu.org). And www.lpga.com has a fine summary of the tournament with a readable leader board. The final rounds are televised early in the morning Eastern time on ESPN, so remember to set your TV to record the final round on Sunday. You won't be disappointed.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to www.cybergolf.com/womensgolf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on www.berkleygolfconsulting.com and is often quoted in national publications. She is also the author of the NGF publication: "An Insider's Guide to Careers in the Golf Industry." She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on www.golfergirlcareers.com. Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.